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(NEW YORK) — Pete Hamill, the self-taught, street-wise newspaper columnist whose love affair with New York inspired a colorful and uniquely influential journalistic career and produced several books of fiction and nonfiction, died Wednesday morning. He was 85.

Pete Hamill was one of the city’s last great crusading columnists and links to journalism’s days of chattering typewriters and smoked-filled banter, an Irish-American both tough and sentimental who related to the underdog and mingled with the elite. Well-read, well-rounded and very well connected, Hamill was at ease quoting poetry and Ernest Hemingway, dating Jacqueline Onassis or enjoying a drink and a cigarette at the old Lion’s Head tavern in Greenwich Village.

His topics ranged from baseball, politics, murders, boxing and riots to wars in Vietnam, Nicaragua, Lebanon and Ireland. But he would always look back to the New York he grew up in, a pre-digital age best remembered through the dreamscape of black and white photography — a New York of egg creams and five-cent subway rides, stickball games and wide-brimmed hats, when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn and there were more daily papers than you could count on one hand.

“I have the native son’s irrational love of the place,” Hamill wrote in his 2004 book, “Downtown: My Manhattan.” “New York is a city of daily irritations, occasional horrors, hourly tests of will and even courage, and huge dollops of pure beauty.”

A Brooklyn-born high school dropout, Hamill was a columnist for the New York Daily News, the New York Post, Newsday, the Village Voice, New York magazine and Esquire. He wrote screenplays, several novels and a bestselling memoir, “A Drinking Life.”

His 2003 novel, “Forever,” told the story of Cormac O’Connor, an Irish Jew who arrives in New York in 1740 and is granted eternal life as long as he stays on the island of Manhattan. His novels “Snow in August” and “The North River” also served up nostalgic and critically acclaimed tales of Old New York.

Hamill had a brief and disheartening turn editing the New York Post. When financier Steven Hoffenberg gained control of the tabloid in bankruptcy proceedings, he hired Hamill as editor in chief in 1993. Hamill quickly hired four Black reporters and promoted a number of women and minorities, recalled fellow columnist Jack Newfield in his memoir, “Somebody’s Gotta Tell It.”

But when Hoffenberg was unable to buy the paper, ownership fell to Abe Hirschfeld, who fired Hamill. The paper’s staff revolted, publishing a mutiny edition that kept Hamill’s name on the masthead as he supervised from a nearby diner. Hirschfeld rehired Hamill, giving him a kiss that the hardened newsman called “the single most ignominious moment of my life.”

Rupert Murdoch eventually purchased the paper, leading to Hamill’s dismissal. A few years later, Hamill spent a short stint as editor-in-chief of the Post’s archrival, the New York Daily News. He also worked for a few months in 1987 as editor of The Mexico City News.

Hamill worried that journalism had become too focused on celebrities, but he was well acquainted with some of the most famous people of his time. He met the Beatles before they played in the U.S., interviewed John Lennon when the ex-Beatle was living in Manhattan, hung out with Frank Sinatra and with the Rolling Stones, and won a Grammy for his liner notes to Bob Dylan’s “Blood On the Tracks.”

As a young man, Hamill was a passionate liberal. His open letter to Robert Kennedy helped persuade the senator to run for president, and Hamill was one of a handful of people who wrestled the gun away from Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan in 1968 at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

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