Mike Royko, the increasingly cantankerous voice for this city’s little guys and working stiffs, whose newspaper column seemed as much a part of Chicago as the wind, died Tuesday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He was 64.
Royko underwent surgery last week for an aneurysm, a weakening or rupturing of a blood vessel.
For nearly 30 years, every young journalist who ever set foot in a Chicago newsroom wanted to be like Royko. He had a tough skin and a generous heart, and his column won almost as many awards - including a Pulitzer Prize in 1972 - as a Windy City election has dead voters.
One morning, he might be blasting a bumbling politician, the next “the rich, smoke-belching industrial fat cats” who he said were threatening to turn Chicago’s magnificent lake front into a wasteland with pollution, overdevelopment and greed.
Royko started his journalism career when he was in the Air Force in the Korean War. To avoid assignment as a military police officer or as a cook when he was transferred to O’Hare Field near Chicago, he talked his way into editing the base newspaper, a skill he picked up the night before from a journalism textbook.
Later, in 1959, Royko got a job at the Daily News, and in 1964, he began writing his column. In 1978, the Daily News closed and Royko went to The Chicago Sun-Times, where he stayed until the paper was bought in 1984 by a group controlled by Rupert Murdoch.
Royko quit and crossed the street to The Tribune.
Royko drew plenty of blood. Last year alone, he set off uproars in Chicago’s black and Latino communities.
He wrote about a woman named Maurica Taylor who was falsely accused of being a father negligent in child support payments; the true suspect was named Maurice Taylor. “I put the blame on Ms. Taylor’s mother. She is the one who decided to name her child Maurica. Some black names defy explanation,” Royko announced.
He went on to muse that “a personnel officer at a corporation might be inclined - all things being equal - to lean toward hiring an accountant named Arthur Smith rather than one named Wanakumba Smith. It just looks neater on a business card.”
He wrote a rare apology.
Later in the year, he decided to explain to readers that “there is no reason for Mexico to be in such a mess except that it is run by Mexicans.”
The Tribune defended its columnist, saying, in part: “It was well within the confines of irony. Anyone who has read Royko over the past 30 years knows that he is not reluctant to speak sharply and sarcastically.”