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Chicago's Mike Royko, sharp-witted columnist, dies

April 29, 1997
Web posted at: 6:00 p.m. EDT

CHICAGO (CNN) -- Mike Royko, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist known for his sarcastic wit and colorful stories of life in Chicago, died Tuesday at the age of 64.

Royko, who wrote a nationally-syndicated column for the Chicago Tribune, suffered a brain aneurysm at his Winnetka home a week ago. He had since been in critical condition at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

The son of a Chicago cab driver, Royko made a name for himself working for the Chicago Daily News and then the Chicago Sun-Times. He quit one day after Australian press baron Rupert Murdoch bought the Sun-Times in 1984.


"His goal is not quality journalism," Royko said at the time. "His goal is vast power for Rupert Murdoch, political power."

Rokyo had little use for politicians, but wrote about them frequently. His book, "The Boss," is a novel-length depiction of Richard J. Daley's tenure as mayor of Chicago during the 1960s and 1970s and the inner workings of a giant political machine.

'He lasted and lasted and lasted'

"He was extraordinarily prodigious," said Michael Miner, media columnist for the Chicago Reader. "He wrote five columns a week for 20 to 25 years. Nobody does that, and he lasted and lasted and lasted."

For material, Rokyo mined the rich fabric of Chicago's ethnic neighborhoods. He tended to write from a working class point of view, and his columns dealt with broad themes that touched readers nationwide.


His brash and cutting style did a lot to secure a loyal readership and sell newspapers. But toward the end of his career it also got him into trouble.

A column he wrote last year sparked anti-Royko protests among Chicago's Mexican-American community, and his effigy was burnt in front of the Tribune building on North Michigan Avenue.

Rokyo didn't apologize and continued to write whatever he pleased.

Loved baseball

He loved baseball. After Chicago Cubs announcer Harry Carey had a heart attack in the late 1980s, Rokyo took a turn in the team's booth as guest announcer.


When he wasn't at working banging out stories, Rokyo was often at Chicago's famed "Billy Goat" tavern, a popular watering hole for the city's journalists. At the bar with a drink in his hand or in print, Royko was never shy about holding forth his opinions -- on sports, politics or the meaning of life.

He won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1972, and in 1995 received the Damon Runyon Award, given annually to the journalist who best exemplifies the style that made Runyon one of the best columnists of his day.

In his acceptance speech, Royko reflected on how the newsroom had changed during his years in journalism.

"Forty years ago, we were on the tail of the Front Page era," Royko said. "There was a different point of view. Reporters and editors were more forgiving of public people. They didn't think they had to stick someone in jail to make a career."

Royko is survived by his wife, Judy, a 9-year-old son, Sam, and 4-year-old daughter, Kate, as well as two grown children from his first marriage. His first wife, Carol, died in 1979.

Correspondent Lisa Price contributed to this report


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