Pete Hamill Dies: Acclaimed New York Tabloid Journalist Was 85

Greg Evans
·3-min read

Pete Hamill, the Brooklyn-born journalist whose street-savvy writing style and editorial hand lent an authentic, even quintessential voice to city tabloids the New York Post and the Daily News over a 50-year-career, died Wednesday in his native borough. He was 85.

His brother, the writer Denis Hamill, told The New York Times that Hamill fell at home on Saturday after returning from a dialysis treatment. He was taken to Brooklyn’s Methodist Hospital, where he died apparently from kidney and heart failure.

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Hamill began his newspaper career at the Post in 1960. Over the next decades he would write for the Daily News, Newsday, The Village Voice, The Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, Playboy, Rolling Stone and many other publications. Along with columnist Jimmy Breslin, who died in 2017, Hamill popularized a streetwise writing style that could seem equal parts Norman Mailer, Damon Runyon and the millions of outer borough residents he both championed and chronicled.

The two New York columnists and friends were the subject of the 2019 HBO documentary Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists.

Hamill also appeared in two Ken Burns documentaries — New York: A Documentary Film and Prohibition — as well as 2018’s Netflix docuseries Bobby Kennedy for President. The writer earned at least one place in history that was not directly related to his journalism: A friend of Kennedy, he was standing near the presidential candidate at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968. Hamill was one of the four men who disarmed Kennedy’s assassin Sirhan Sirhan.

Hamill’s screenplay credits include the 1971 Western Doc, with Stacy Keach and Harris Yulin, and 1973’s crime drama Badge 373, starring Robert Duvall. His novels Flesh and Blood, The Gift and Snow in August were adapted for television, and he played himself in Ron Howard’s The Paper (1994) and Abel Ferrara’s King of New York (1990).

Hamill published a memoir, A Drinking Life, in 1994. He also wrote 10 novels, mostly set in New York, and two collections of short stories.

Among Hamill’s many accolades and awards were the Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, an Honorary Doctor of Letters Degree from St. John’s University, the Louis Auchincloss Prize from the Museum of the City of New York, and the George Polk Career Award. He won a Grammy Award in 1975 for the line notes to Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks album.

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