Journalist/author Richard Ben Cramer, 62, dies of lung cancer

Posted: January 08, 2013

RICHARD BEN CRAMER, an iconic journalist and author who won a Pulitzer Prize at the Inquirer for his vivid overseas reporting, died Monday evening in Baltimore after a battle with lung cancer. He was 62.

Cramer, who'd been living on Maryland's Eastern Shore and had been working on a book about New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez in recent years, died at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, according to his close friend James McBride. Cramer's death was confirmed by family members to other news organizations late Monday.

"He was one of the greatest nonfiction writers to sit behind a desk and put a pen to a page," said McBride, author of the best-selling The Color of Water. "He's the writer that we all wanted to be . . . He could spin a yarn out of anything."

In the post-Watergate era of journalism, Cramer was considered a giant, a writer's writer who injected life into uninspiring presidential candidates like Bob Dole and Joe Biden in his 1988 campaign epic, What It Takes, routinely listed as one of the best political tomes of all time.

"His book What It Takes is the first book I tell anyone interested in American politics, American culture, and American journalism to read," James Fallows, the journalist and former Jimmy Carter speechwriter, wrote Monday night. "It is timeless but also timely, since its cast of characters - those competing for the presidency in 1988 - includes our current vice president, Joe Biden."

But Cramer was known for throwing his heart and soul into every story, such as his legendary May 8, 1981, article about the funeral of Northern Ireland hunger striker Bobby Sands, including these words: "past fathers holding sons face-forward that they might remember the day, past mothers rocking and shielding prams that held tomorrow's fighters, past old men who blew their rheumy noses and remembered their own days of rage . . . "

A native of Rochester, N.Y., and a graduate of Johns Hopkins and Columbia Journalism School, Cramer worked at the Inquirer in the late 1970s and early '80s. There he met Carolyn White, managing editor of the Sunday magazine, whom he married. She played a key role in editing What It Takes, reportedly making him cut 100 pages from the sprawling book. The couple had a daughter, Ruby, and he also is survived by his second wife, Joan.

In 1979, Cramer won the Pulitzer Prize for his international reporting from the volatile Middle East. Later he turned to the subject of sports with the same vigor and enthusiasm, producing a best-selling biography of Joe Dimaggio in 2000 and editing the Best American Sports Stories in 2004.

As news of Cramer's passing spread on Twitter Monday night, many top journalists cited Cramer as a hero and an inspiration. "If it wasn't for Richard Ben Cramer," wrote Chris Cilizza of the Washington Post, "I wouldn't be a political reporter." " @Will_Bunch

Blog: Attytood.com

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