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He was a colorful, interesting man to the end

TUESDAY, MAY 11, 2010

Last Sunday, as the clock ticked a few beats past midnight, Spokane lost a wonderful guy.

Charley Schlesinger died peacefully at Deaconess Medical Center. He was 61.

I’ve written a couple of columns chronicling the formidable health problems that led to Charley receiving not one, but two liver transplants.

However, recent e-mails from Schlesinger and Sue McClelland, the love of his life, warned their friends about how much his condition had deteriorated.

I read the words but remained in a state of denial. Schlesinger was such an amazing fighter. I guess I kept expecting him to keep bouncing back.

Not this time, sadly.

On Monday afternoon I stood with a large gathering of mourners on a grassy hillside at Mount Nebo Cemetery, where Schlesinger was laid to rest. I’m not good at estimating the size of a crowd. But it looked to me like there were at least 200 of us, which, considering the short notice, served as a testimony to how incredibly well-loved he was.

Schlesinger made friends wherever he went, and his diverse interests took him to a lot of arenas.

Private investigator, radio celebrity, witty raconteur, baseball fanatic, medical marvel …

There’s no replacing a Charley Schlesinger. He was that special.

It’s common to bolster the deeds of the deceased, Adie Goldberg remarked during her poignant and eloquent eulogy. But with Schlesinger, “who lived a very large life, there is no need to exaggerate.”

Or as he once observed to me during an interview, “I used to be colorful. Now I’m just interesting.”

Public radio listeners knew him as the gravel-voiced host of the long-running Friday night “Jazz With Chas” show.

Schlesinger “spoke music,” said Goldberg, and she’s right. His mind was an attic crammed with facts and anecdotes about music and musicians famous and obscure. In his clipped, East Coast delivery, Schlesinger would embellish his playlist by weaving fascinating stories about the artists, songs or whatever mood he was in at the time.

Schlesinger made Spokane a more interesting place. Even his medical struggles were over the top.

Deathly sick with hepatitis C, Schlesinger received his first liver transplant in 1999. Back he came to join the living until 2007, when cancerous spots were found on the new organ.

Claiming the nickname “Three Liver Charley,” he was put back on the transplant list and given another new organ in Seattle in February 2008.

By all accounts the liver was an excellent match. The surgery went well. But then infections and other complications put Schlesinger on life-support for two straight months.

Then, against all odds, he seemed to bloom with the spring flowers.

“It’s Chas calling from the other side of the world,” Schlesinger rasped in a message left on my voice mail.

What a guy.

Rabbi Jacob Izakson, who conducted the service, dubbed Schlesinger “The Comeback Kid.”

Nobody disagreed.

And now the pain and the misery are over for this rare man who touched so many of us.

“Charles Schlesinger is now at rest with his creator,” added Rabbi Izakson.


Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or dougc@spokesman.com.

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