Pete Hamill, iconic NYC journalist and editor, dead at 85

Pete Hamill.
Respected NYC journalist and author, Pete Hamill.
Photo by Wikimedia Commons/David Shankbone

Legendary Brooklyn-born journalist, essayist, and author Pete Hamill passed away Wednesday morning at the age of 85.

Hamill’s younger brother and fellow journalist, Denis Hamill, told the Daily News that Pete fell on Saturday, suffering a fracture to his right hip.

Despite emergency surgery at New York Presbyterian/Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, Hamill’s kidneys and heart failed, reported the Daily News, where Pete Hamill previously served as editor.

Hamill also had stints as editor-in-chief at the New York Post and as columnist for the late New York Newsday — a sign of his incredible impact on tabloid journalism in New York.

Hamill, a dropout from the city’s prestigious Regis High School in Manhattan, began his career at an early age, chronicling crime, news, and cultural affairs in the streets of New York City, which were integral both to his life and to his outlook as a journalist.

In 1958, at age 23, Hamill submitted his first articles to the New York Post about his best friend, Puerto Rican professional boxer José Torres.

He was subsequently hired as a reporter for the outlet, beginning what would become an explosive, 40-year career.

Hamill remarked of his career in journalism and without a traditional academic background that “to be a newspaperman is one of the best educations in the world.” As such, Hamill was a self-made man with an encyclopedic knowledge of American history, the Civil Rights movement and their relationship to dramatic events of his time.

Unafraid to hit the streets and confront the current affairs of the day head-on, Hamill wrote widely on crime, racial injustice, local politics, and famous figures such as Frank Sinatra and John Lennon.

He aligned himself with the cutting edge “New Journalism” movement, finding a particular affinity with the works of fellow journalist and author, the late Norman Mailer.

Hamill bore witness to the assassination of his close friend, Senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, in the Ambassador Hotel, LA, on June 5, 1968. Hamill was active in disarming the killer, Sirhan Sirhan, when this historic murder took place.

Hamill was also on the scene of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In a column for the Daily News, he recalled being at Tweed Courthouse near City Hall that fateful morning and running out just in time to see United Airlines Flight 175 hit the South Tower.

He and his wife, Japanese journalist Fukiko Aoki, both covered the story at the World Trade Center. They were briefly separated while fleeing the collapse of the towers, but reunited at home hours later. 

Graced with a poetic spirit, skillful wit and storytelling style beyond the bounds of journalism, Hamill authored of more than 20 novels and 200 short stories. He also wrote long-form articles for some of the city’s most prestigious magazines, such as The New Yorker, New York Magazine, Esquire, and Rolling Stone.

He even won a Grammy for line notes written for Bob Dylan’s seminal album, Blood on the Tracks.

amNY Metro Breaking News Editor Todd Maisel had the great pleasure of working under Hamill during his brief 8-month stint as editor at the Daily News.

Then a freelance photographer, Maisel reported that Hamill was “the best editor I ever worked for,” recalling his warmth, passion and humility — one of the few “higher-ups” who would take time out of his day to personally praise his staff on work well done.

“The man was a true journalist in every way, and his books were phenomenal. He understood the human psyche,” Maisel said.

The son of Irish immigrants, Hamill was first employed as a paperboy distributing the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He was the eldest of seven siblings and his roots lay in the then working-class neighborhood of Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Hamill was survived by his wife, Aoki, daughters Deirdre and Adriene, and a grandson.