Murray’s death saddens readers everywhere

It’s not a GOOD MORNING now that I will no longer start the day reading Jim Murray’s column. The sportswriter died late Sunday at age 78 of cardiac arrest. In his last column, Murray covered the million-$ Pacific Classic last Saturday (Aug. 15) and the story was in Sunday morning’s paper. And that’s how Murray worked for 37 years: on daily deadline, no week or month to play with prose, no lavish lag time enjoyed by other writers who would laboriously finesse every phrase. Murray just poured out gold from his mind’s mine of memories, with his heart pumping every loving word. Sure, he was the Pulitzer Prize-winning sports columnist for the L.A. Times, named “America’s Best Sportswriter” by the National Assn. of Sportscasters & Sportswriters 14 times, but his audience was not just sports fans; he wrote for everyone … Murray had been Time magazine’s L.A. (call it Hollywood) correspondent from 1948-1959 and he interviewed all the stars of those halcyon days. (In Time mag’s 75th anniversary issue, Harry Grunwald told of a dinner with Murray when Ava Gardner gave an MGM press agent anxiety) … In those early days before Murray segued to write for the new Sports Illustrated, he and young Hollywood press agent Warren Cowan used to lunch at Tail o’ the Cock to cook up stories; praiser Frank Liberman got Murray to write a column about jazz great Muggsy Spanier. In later years, Murray would write about the Hollywood stars who became sportsmen — like three columns on race car driver Paul Newman, who rarely gave interviews. He once wrote a column about Dean Martin, headed “Cleveland 8, Yankees 2,” about a Little League game in which Dino Martin was pitching. Dean had a clause in his contract saying he got off work anytime his son was on the mound. (Murray said that game had to be called because one of the mothers took her son home for dinner) … Murray’s movie memory bank was often tapped for his columns. For example, writing in his final column about Fire House, “the hard-luck champion” of horse racing, Murray called him “the best friend who finally got the girl in the Warner Bros. movie for a change” … Murray covered all sports, not only the major, highly publicized ones. He wrote columns each year about Al Franken and his indoor L.A. track meets, which ensured the sport exposure that only his column could give … As L.A. Times’ sports editor Bill Dwyre noted, Murray had no ego. Further proof of his generous trait is recalled by Daily Variety assistant managing editor Todd Cunningham. When Cunningham was a 20-year-old cub sports writer, he was in a locker room where Murray was interviewing a major sports star. As Cunningham lingered respectfully outside hearing range, Murray beckoned the youngster to join and benefit from the interview being Murray-mastered.

FROM ONE HALL OF FAME’R about another: Vin Scully was deeply saddened by the news of Murray’s death. “I called him ‘Murphy,’ he called me ‘Kelly,’ ” laughed Scully. “When I first started radio broadcasting, I got a fan letter addressed, ‘Ben Kelly.’ I told that to Jim and after that he always called me ‘Kelly,’ and I called him ‘Murphy.’ When people heard us addressing each other that way, I’m sure they thought we were crazy!” Vin admitted, “I used to marvel at him. I remember when I was a sportswriter on my high school and college papers, I would sweat over one word. Now when I finish a ballgame and I’m through working, I’d see him crouched over his typewriter (or laptop) and just pouring out the words. He had that gift. He was music. And it was wonderful to sit around just to listen to him. He’d never talk about himself, it was always about something interesting. I once introduced him at a dinner with, ‘If I had to be stranded on a desert island with someone, I’d choose Jim Murray.’ He was so bright, so well-read, I could spend a lot of time just listening to him.” Scully also observed, “He had the greatest ability to capture the sensitive moment. He was brilliant. He could puncture a phony.” When he lost an eye, he wrote a column about “having lost a friend.” He wrote other memorable columns — the most tender was about loss of his wife Gerry. More recently, he brought a happy tear to the eyes of his friends and readers when he wrote about his new life with his new bride, Linda McCoy. She sadly says services will be held 11 ayem Friday at St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church in Brentwood. Jim Murray was a credit to the fraternity of ink-stained wretches.

MERV ADELSON RECEIVES the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Humanitarian Award Sept. 15 at the BevHilton. Whoopi Goldberg will femcee; Barbara and Gerald Levin chair. Rabbi Marvin Hier, who last month effected the Swiss Banks’ return of stolen funds to holocaust survivors-owners, will next week announce the return of $75 million to holocaust survivors from insurance companies that had avoided responsibility all these years … Les Moonves will be honored with the G&P Foundation’s First Humanitarian Award Oct. 12 at N.Y.’s Sheraton. President Clinton is honorary chairman. Milton Berle’s 90th birthday will also be toasted here. The G&P Foundation for Cancer Research is headed by Denise Rich.

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