Cover image for Royko : a life in print
Royko : a life in print
Ciccone, F. Richard.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Public Affairs, [2001]

Physical Description:
xvi, 451 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Reading Level:
1100 Lexile.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PN4874.R744 C53 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Mike Royko pulled no punches. A hardnosed reporter with a keen sense of social justice and a murderous pen, he became, in Jimmy Breslin's words, "the best journalist of his time". Royko was by all accounts a difficult man, who would chew out his assistants every morning and retire to the Billy Goat Tavern every night. But his writing was magic. No one captured Chicago like Mike Royko. No one wrote with his honesty, his toughness, his passion, and his humor.

In this, the first comprehensive biography of one of the most important Chicagoans of the century, Dick Ciccone, a long-time colleague and editor of Royko's at the Chicago Tribune, captures Royko at his best and at his worst. We see Royko sweating over columns minutes before deadline. We see him romancing his wife. We see him torturing his legmen. We see him barbequeing ribs and riffing on politicians.

Mike Royko was the most widely read columnist in Chicago history. His column was syndicated in more than 600 newspapers across the country. With 7500 columns spanning four decades, Royko's writing reflects a radically changing America. Royko not only tells the story of one of America's greatest newspapermen, but also explores the dramatic changes in journalism and in American society over the course of the twentieth century.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

On the heels of Doug Moe's slim, anecdotal The World of Mike Royko (1999), veteran Chicago newsman Ciccone has written the first fully comprehensive biography of corrosive Chicago columnist Royko (1932-1997), labeled "the best journalist of his time" by Jimmy Breslin. A street-smart watchdog who could sniff out political hypocrisy and injustices on all levels, Royko found fame as he wrote for the Chicago Daily News, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune with wry wit and caustic satire: "That's the way I felt about pols. They were comedic material." The 8,000 installments of his highly popular column were syndicated in more than 600 newspapers over four decades, and his acclaimed biography of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, Boss (1971), was a national bestseller. To trace Royko's Chicago beat and demonstrate how he became both "the voice of the little man" and "the voice of the Lake Forest privileged," Ciccone, who also worked for the Tribune and wrote a book on Daley (Daley: Power and Presidential Politics), traces Royko's Chicago childhood, his transition from reporter to columnist, his coverage of the civil rights movement, the 1968 Chicago riots, controversial columns (many excerpts are included) and the writing of Boss: "Royko declared war on the subject and mapped his battle plans." Here are Royko's feuds, friends and favorite saloons. Against the backdrop of Chicago's blizzards and political brawls, Ciccone has captured Royko's venom and compassion. (June 12) Forecast: Shelves will be well stocked in Chicago and elsewhere, since legions of Royko readers have waited for this one. They will not be disappointed, and they will spread the word. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The son of a bartender and a child of one of Chicago's ethnic neighborhoods, Mike Royko became one of the nation's best-known journalists, covering Chicago with his hard-hitting, insightful, and sometimes humorous columns for over 30 years. His trademarks included coverage of Chicago politics (with special attention to Mayor Daley), a passion for social justice, a love of the Chicago Cubs, and the fictional Slats Grobnik who gave voice to the urban ethnic Chicagoan and allowed Royko to draw on his personal past. Before his death in 1997, he was syndicated in more than 600 newspapers nationwide, and he had won most of the major prizes in journalism, including the Pulitzer for Commentary in 1972. In this first major biography, Ciccone (Daley: Power and Presidential Politics), Royko's former colleague and editor at the Chicago Tribune, documents Royko's life with his columns, letters, and interviews with friends and family, skillfully interweaving the personal with the professional. A truly welcome addition to all journalism collections. [See also For the Love of Mike, LJ 5/15/01, a second volume of his collected columns, published last spring. Ed.] Judy Solberg, George Washington Univ. Lib., Washington, DC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One                Sunset Ridge Country Club is one of the exclusive playgrounds on the North Shore of Chicago. It is in Northfield, nestled just north of Glenview and west of Winnetka, which straddles the ravines at the edge of Lake Michigan. The Sunset Ridge golf course was the site of the 1972 Western Open Championship won by the rather obscure Jim Jamieson. On most days the club's parking lot is filled with cars driven by women coming for lunch in the white clapboard clubhouse; or moms dropping off children for swimming or golf lessons; or lawyers, chief executives, and stockbrokers who sneak away from their downtown glass-enclosed worlds for a quick eighteen holes.     On a cool gray Chicago sort of day in March 1996, the small driving range at the western end of the tree-lined parking lot was not crowded. Mike Royko was hitting some balls. At age sixty-three he was fretting about losing distance on his fairway woods. He methodically checked his grip, tried different stances, twisted at the hips, and rolled his wrists, running through his standard routine. For four decades, Royko had adhered slavishly to the principles of Ben Hogan, whom Royko worshiped both for the work ethic that made Hogan the world's greatest golfer in the 1940s and 1950s and for his total immersion in the study of the game. These were also the traits of Mike Royko: relentless work and total dedication.     Royko did not merely play golf or listen to classical music or collect movies or catch bass or pitch softball. He attacked these hobbies as intellectual opponents to be vanquished. He studied, reported, consulted, and involved himself in every aspect of whatever it was he was interested in to the exclusion of family, friends, and civility.     For forty years Royko, when not absorbed with one of the many other things that fascinated him, was absorbed in golf. He would lecture friends about how to improve their game, pass out Xeroxed pages from Hogan's book, and demonstrate Hogan's version of the "grip" the way Moses must have enumerated the commandments. He would launch into critiques of various courses he had played and fantasize the design of the perfect golf course. Constructing the ultimate golf course was one of the options he considered for his retirement years, along with playing blues at a piano bar, operating a Florida fishing-shack, owning a magazine, buying a newspaper, and writing a novel.     Why Mike Royko, the son of a bartender, who became the most famous newspaperman in Chicago's fabled newspaper history, was standing on a golf course that had long been the preserve of the very rich, the very elite, and the very Protestant, and which epitomized all Royko envied and ridiculed for nearly forty years is as difficult to explain as Royko's moods, as ironic as his satire, and as complicated as the egomaniac twists and frightened loneliness of his genius. Royko was indeed a true genius, and the newspaper business did not produce many of them.     Newspapers dominated the information and entertainment needs of America for a century. They were the supreme provider of news and enlightenment. They groomed literary figures who changed the way Americans thought. They were an indispensable part of most people's everyday lives. For the final third of the twentieth century, no American newspaperman was as prolific, entertaining, poignant, vicious, reflective, sentimental, probing, courageous, contrarian, and provocative as Mike Royko.     Royko was the writer that others copied. He was the reporter who could not be beaten, possessing the wit that defied imitation and providing inspiration to almost everyone still trying to practice journalism by the rules of fair play, decency, and that elusive search for accuracy. He would despise today's world of digital and electronic reporting of rumor or hearsay shamelessly devoid of attribution. He hated anonymous reporting. He detested invasions of privacy that injured innocent family members. He abhorred factual errors. Of course, at one time or another in his forty-year career he committed all those journalistic sins, but he apologized for them. He was rigorous. He checked everything, made every telephone call, gave everyone a fair chance to rebut charges or defend their actions. Usually such responses gave him more ammunition, but he always gave them the chance.     In thirty-three years of writing columns five times a week, Royko became, more than any person during the twentieth century, the personification of Chicago, save perhaps his foe and foil, Mayor Richard J. Daley. His column was read in more than 600 newspapers all over America. He symbolized Chicago's heritage as the reckless frontier town turned into a megalopolis where millions of immigrants struggled in the blood and muck of stockyards and the sweat and fire of steel mills to buy a bungalow and educate their families, survive a depression, and win a few world wars. Although he gruffly denied that he spoke for anyone, Royko was the voice of the Chicago that worked hard, paid taxes, and slapped their kids when they needed it. He was the voice of the little man, the illegal Polish immigrant doctor tossed out the country, the black civil rights marchers of the 1960s. At times he was also the voice of the Lake Forest privileged, the politicians, the Gold Coast millionaires, the cops, and the bureaucrats. He defended the Asians, the Hispanics, the Italians, the Greeks, the Swedes, the Hungarians, the Croatians, and the Serbs. He made fun of them all, of their drinking and cooking, and their muddled romances and their foolish whining about racism and prejudice when they didn't bother to vote often enough to throw the bigots out of office.     He wrote passionately about the civil rights movement of the 1960s, driving white suburban readers of the Chicago Daily News to cancel subscriptions. He wrote hundreds of columns about the city's abhorrent treatment of blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, and other minorities. When most of white America thought its heavyweight champion, Cassius Clay, was an American disgrace, Royko noted that almost every successful entertainer in the country had changed his name. Muhammad Ali was all right with him. He savaged Jesse Jackson for twenty years for various acts of hypocrisy and self-promotion, but he defended and praised Jackson's 1984 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. No other newspaper commentator or media figure of any stripe in the last half of the century had such an abundant record of defending the downtrodden.     If, between his practice swings, Mike Royko gave a few thoughts to retirement--he thought about retiring constantly those days--it would have only magnified the most ironic aspect of that cold first day of March 1996.     Just twenty miles south of Sunset Ridge, a block north of the Chicago River on Michigan Avenue, more than 1,000 people were marching around the Chicago Tribune Tower demanding that Royko retire. Actually they were naively hoping that the Chicago Tribune would fire Royko because of a column he had written Tuesday, February 27. The column stated that the only thing of value Mexico produced in the twentieth century was tequila. He said a lot of other sharp things, too. The piece was satire, a shrill mocking of Pat Buchanan's xenophobic speeches about Hispanics. Royko noted that Buchanan was suspected of privately calling Hispanics "beaners."     The protesters considered the column demeaning and insensitive to Mexican Americans. They burned and tore up copies of the Tribune , waved huge Mexican flags, and carried dozens of signs, including ones that read: " Tribune must act now to fire Royko," "Retire Mike. Shame on you!" "Stop insulting us." Chanting, "Kick him out" and "Royko go to hell," the protesters demanded a front-page apology from the Tribune .     How could these protesters attack the man who, in winning the Heywood Braun award, was described as the "ombudsman for the underdog"? How could they attack the man whose columns "could attack evils without showing the bitterness of his heart ... for his sardonic, bold and courageous writing, always stressing the little man and what our society does to him"?     In his February 27 column Royko had written, "If Mexico is sincere about wanting to improve itself, it would stop pushing drugs and border hopping. Instead, it would invite us to invade and seize the entire country and turn it into the world's greatest golf resort. Let us be open about this. There is no reason for Mexico to be such a mess except that it is run by Mexicans, who have clearly established that they don't know what the heck they are doing."     The telephone began ringing at Tribune Tower that Tuesday night. The callers were furious. The Tribune corporate hierarchy responded with a statement on Thursday supporting Royko, and defending the column as political satire: "Anyone who has read Royko over the past 30 years knows he is not reluctant to speak sharply and sarcastically. We recognize some people were offended by Royko's column and regret that they have misinterpreted the intent."     Tribune publisher Jack Fuller agreed to meet with Hispanic leaders. On Thursday, Royko also responded to angry callers: The paper with the offending column had been on the newsstands for fourteen hours before the first protest came in. It had been delivered to homes about eight hours before the first phone call. Not until Hispanic broadcasters lifted words and lines out of context did the salsa suddenly hit the fan. But if people were upset by what they heard--or even read--then I will oblige them with an apology. A resignation? Very soon, but not quite yet. I have my own schedule for retirement. Royko went on in his usual fashion of apology: He continued the attack. He apologized to Mexican drug lords and said that he now was against any kind of immigration laws so anyone who wanted could swarm across the border. Naturally, Royko's apology did not deter the planned protest.     A Mexican language radio station that had taken up the politically correct mantle demanded its listeners boycott the Tribune . The Hispanic members of the City Council, and, surprisingly, Alderman Edward Burke, one of the brightest and best-read Chicago pols, who surely understood satire when he read it, joined the protest.     Royko's column on the morning of the protest began: Unfortunately, a previous engagement will prevent me from attending the protest demonstration that is to be held outside of my workplace some time today. But I don't want the people who will be there demanding my firing or resignation to think that I am snubbing them. Nothing could be further from the truth. For the last two days, I have done little but listen to hundreds of phone callers, both live and on my overflowing voice mail machine. So I thought it would be a good idea to print some of the calls here as they came in, except for a few colorful words and phrases that shouldn't be viewed by children. Also, there will be no names since most of the callers were surprisingly shy about identifying themselves. As usual, Royko found the crudest and silliest callers to quote. But he did not omit, as he easily could have, quoting a caller who brought up Royko's embarrassing and highly publicized arrest a year earlier: "The article you wrote yesterday, I disagree about it. I remember last year when you were a drunken driver. Were you drinking tequila or what?"     And he was uncharacteristically upset with another caller whose message said: "Mike, you (deleted), don't speak (deleted) with the Mexicans, you mother (deleted). I am Mexican, you stupid (deleted). Hey, (deleted) your momma."     In almost four decades, and more than seven million words, Royko had rarely lashed out in a personal diatribe against a reader whose mail and call he had received. But not this one. I didn't intend to comment on this matter. But this last comment requires a response. My mother, after a life of hard work to keep our family together, died quite young of cancer. So if the last caller would be so kind as to contact me and identify himself and allow us to arrange a place to meet, I assure him that I will rip his dirty tongue out of his mouth and stuff it where it belongs. You, sir, are human garbage. Other than that, hey, everybody, have a nice protest.     It was not the first time Royko's columns had been the subject of reader anger. White readers threatened to picket the Chicago Daily News during the 1960s when Royko defended black civil rights actions and longhaired antiwar protesters. Some of his Northwest Side neighbors threw a brick through his window that landed near his sleeping son. And on countless nights in countless bars, Royko had to withstand countless critics. He often shrugged off these critics by offering them the quarter or thirty-five cents they had paid for the newspaper.     This time it was different.     A few days after the protest, the Tribune wrote an editorial that sounded like it still supported Royko but not quite as enthusiastically. Newspapers are not in the business of offending people who have done nothing wrong. Sometimes we manage to do so anyway, even though we don't set out to. But when one causes pain to people who don't deserve to suffer it, the only proper human response is regret. That's the proper journalistic response as well. The Tribune is sorry that many Mexican-Americans and others were deeply insulted by the Royko columns. We are particularly sorry that the first public statement the company made in the aftermath added to the injury. That statement was not political satire. It was not journalism. It was a corporate statement, and it should have been on the mark. We are not sorry that the Tribune publishes Mike Royko, who for three decades has stood courageously for the underdog and the rights of individuals against the power of the majority. A newspaper has to be willing to speak forthrightly in its news columns, to speak bluntly on its editorial page, and to let many voices speak pointedly, even knowing that occasionally the result will be discomfort.     In earlier times, newspapers wouldn't have acknowledged a protest. In the 1950s and 1960s, newspapers were arrogant. They did not worry about readers. They did not create focus groups to determine what the editorial page should say. When Royko became a newspaperman, American newspapers were still lingering from the effects of private ownership. Newspapers said what their owners wanted to say. The reader could do what he liked.     By the 1990s, corporate ownership and corporate sensitivity had tried to change the image of newspapers. For an institution as old and as steeped in tradition as the Chicago Tribune this was difficult, if not impossible. The looming Romanesque-Gothic tower that Colonel Robert R. McCormick had built in 1925 at the head of Michigan Avenue had long stood as a citadel of Republican conservatism for the entire Midwest. By the time Royko joined the Tribune in 1984, much of that Republican legacy had dissipated, but the image of the Tribune as a powerful member of the establishment persisted.     Ironically, Mike Royko grew up hating the Chicago Tribune for its many rigid conservative postures. He only went to work there as the lesser of journalism evils. Yet the once haughty Tribune , where a column perceived as insulting to immigrants would have been relished inside the newsroom, was now the arena of dissent that was most upsetting to Royko. The monolithic white male, Republican Tribune of his youth was now staffed almost equally with women, and was filled with many African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians. Most of all, it was young. Many of the reporters and editors who scuttled sideways when Royko passed them in the hallway without a nod or a mumble of recognition were not only quite oblivious of his long and honored record, but were practicing a different kind of journalism, one that he openly attacked and ridiculed. Political correctness was as disgusting to him as the racist attitudes he had found in newsrooms forty years earlier.     The reaction to the Mexican-American column, outside and inside Tribune Tower, was not the first time Royko was made aware that not all his colleagues were still filled with awe and admiration for him. In 1991, in the aftermath of the Rodney King-related rioting in Los Angeles, Royko had obtained a Los Angeles Police Department transcription of a conversation between the police dispatcher and a patrol car. He wrote a column as a parody of the 1950s Dragnet radio and television programs which featured the sparse dialogue of the fictional Los Angeles detective Joe Friday. In part, he quoted the police transcript and its references to blacks as "monkeys." 9:40 A.M. Drove down Slausen toward home of complainant. Monkeys in the trees, monkeys in the trees, hi ho dario, monkeys in the trees. Too bad we don't have time for some monkey-slapping. My partner says he wishes he could drive down Slausen with a flame thrower. We could have a barbecue. 9:45 A.M. Arrived at home of complainant. Asked her, "Ma'am, did you see the perpetrators?" She said she got a glimpse of two men running through her back yard. Asked her: "Be's 'dey Naugahyde?" She said: "What?" I said: "You know, be's 'dey Negrohide?" She asked if I meant African-Americans. I asked my partner if African-American meant the same as monkeys. He said he believed so. I said: "Yes, ma'am." She said: "No, they did not appear to be African-Americans." I said, too bad, I was in the mood for some monkey-slapping. Could have gone out on a monkey hunt and questioned a Buckwheat or a Willie Lunch Meat. But she described them as being swarthy. That was a good clue. Meant that we might get some Mexercise. Or maybe they were Indians, the towel-head kind, not the feather kind. Thanked her and left. No sense in staying. Didn't have a huge set of kazoopers.     Royko finished the column, as he usually did, about 6:30 P.M. and left the office. The column was edited on the city desk and processed as usual. About 8 P.M. a young African-American editor was searching the computer and came upon the column, which she read. She became incensed that Royko would include such degrading language in his column. She rounded up several colleagues and urged them to read it. All of them were young; some were minorities. They complained to the ranking editor on the floor, Carl Sotir, the News Editor. Sotir read the column. He agreed it was offensive. He said he would try to reach me, as I was the managing editor at the time. I was not home. Sotir then called Howard Tyner, the deputy managing editor, and explained the complaints about the column. He read several of the paragraphs to Tyner who then ordered the column killed. It was the first time in Royko's seven years at the Tribune that anyone even suggested his column be killed. When he was notified at home he was furious.     I returned home from a concert about 10:30 P.M. to a ringing telephone. It was Royko. "I am resigning from that fucking newspaper and never writing another word for that fucking rag."     It was not the first time an angry Royko had resigned to me or to many of the other editors he had worked for over the years "What's wrong now?" I asked.     "Those fucking assholes killed my column."     "Let me call the paper and find out what the hell's going on," I replied.     "It's too late, it's almost deadline. They killed it and I quit." Royko replied, hanging up the phone.     I reached Bill Parker, the assistant news editor, at almost 11 P.M., and Parker explained what had happened and that Tyner had made the decision. Parker then read me the column.     "Put it back in the paper," I said.     "It's getting late, we'll probably miss deadline," replied Parker. Allowing the presses to start late inevitably caused a chain-reaction that resulted in newspapers arriving late at commuter stations and causing dreaded declines in the daily sales, the ultimate sin for a news editor in charge of getting the edition out on time.     "Put the column back in the paper," I said. A few minutes later I called Royko at home. "The column is no longer killed. It's in the paper," I said.     "I still quit. I'm not coming in." Royko said.     The next morning Royko trudged through the office at his usual 10:30 arrival time, and said nothing.     The column with its references to African Americans as monkeys did not stir one complaint from the Tribune 's 600,000 readers. The only unrest was inside the newsroom. The death and resurrection of the column became media news. Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post wrote about it in his media column and so did Editor & Publisher . Royko eventually calmed down and said that he did not blame Tyner for initially killing the column, because Tyner had not had the chance to read the entire piece. The problem was with the naive young staffers more interested in political correctness than good journalism. Thankfully, this crisis disappeared quickly.     The crisis over the Mexican-American column did not. Some of Royko's closest friends thought he had not quite pulled off the satire. They told him the column seemed cruel.     Lois Wille, a two-time Pulitzer winner and the journalist Royko most admired for nearly forty years, knew him longer than anyone and was the single person whose judgment he most trusted. When Royko called Wille at her Virginia retirement home seeking consolation for the criticism over the column, she suggested maybe the phrasing could have been better. "You're wrong," he answered.     But Wille defended Royko publicly. "Mike Royko has not changed. Newspapers have changed. At the Chicago Daily News he did things that offended a lot of people. The only person he had to answer to was the editor. There was no hierarchy at the paper that commented or got nervous about what Mike wrote. Marshall Field [owner of the Daily News and the Chicago Sun-Times ] would never have thought of responding to protests."     Studs Terkel, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Chicago icon who formed a mutual admiration society with Royko, said, "His aim was lethal. Sometimes he went after the vulture and got the sparrow. In the last couple of years, he was hitting the wrong target unnecessarily." Terkel, who never drove a car and became an aficionado of Chicago taxi drivers, used to berate Royko for his columns deriding Middle Eastern immigrants who eagerly sought cab-driving jobs.     "He never let up," Terkel sighed.     Hanke Gratteau, one of Royko's sixteen "legmen," said, "He was mad that I thought the Mexican column missed the mark. His genius was that he could go right to the edge with something and never fall over. I thought on that one, he fell over."     Others did not tell him the column was bad. They looked for excuses. Rick Kogan, whose father, Herman, was one of Chicago's greatest all-around writer-editors and an idol of Royko's in his early newspaper days, said, "He would never have written the column in such a way that anyone could have missed the satire had he been working in the office. He wrote it from home and didn't have the usual people around to get feedback." Kogan, a Tribune feature writer, was one of the handful of people who were welcome visitors at Royko's corner office in the Tribune . But Royko didn't have many advisers, and while he sometimes tried out column material on visitors, he hardly ever asked his assistants or anyone to actually edit his work.     "At least half the columns he wrote when I worked for him, I had no idea what he was writing until I read it in the paper," said Tribune columnist Ellen Warren. "Most of the time I left at five and he was still staring at the typewriter."     In the weeks following the Mexican-American furor, the Tribune printed several letters allowing offended Mexican Americans to vent their displeasure. The newspaper printed one defending Royko. It was written by Jon Leonard: After reading the column carefully, I explained to these students that Royko's intention was to poke fun at Buchanan's extremist stances, as well as at voter's aptness to fall prey to such demagoguery. I then spent the next 45 minutes giving them a lesson on political satire, explaining its history going back to Jonathan Swift's "Modest Proposal," in which he proposed eating the children of England as a way to cut down on poverty and homelessness. Once the students understood the basis of the column in the context of political satire, they found it to be as hilarious and pointedly critical of Buchanan and the far Right as I did.     Leonard got it right. Royko's column was mean-spirited, but throughout his career he had fired shots at the pomposity or posturing of one group or another trying to achieve power or status at the expense of someone else. Paul O'Connor, who worked for Royko in the 1970s, said the controversial column was simply a Royko trademark. "It was a rite of passage for immigrants to be ridiculed. Royko grew up with that and he wrote about it. It happened to every ethnic group. You knew you were on the way to being a full fledged American when people started making fun of you and calling you ethnic names. He did it to everyone, the Irish, the Italians, the Poles. When he did it to the Mexicans the times were different and they went berserk. To him it was being part of the club."     When the noise died down, Howard Tyner, by then editor of the Tribune , assigned Royko a permanent editor. Royko was offended. He thought it was a signal that after thirty-three years he could no longer be trusted, and that the Tribune was appeasing the Generation X staffers who considered him a dinosaur. After a brief period, the column was again sent through the city desk. But more and more, young editors whom Royko had never heard of began calling him at home at night to ask questions about the day's column.     Royko loved movies and memorized huge swatches of dialogue from dozens of John Wayne films and from other movies he watched over and over. But the line he quoted most was from The Godfather , the Mafia classic where one character tries to explain to his brother that the shooting of their father was not something to become emotional about. "It's business, it's not personal."     For all the idealism that cloaked his words, Royko was a practical man. The son of an immigrant, he grew up in the depression and found himself earning more money than any other newspaper columnist in America. He quoted the line from The Godfather many times to rationalize the idiosyncrasies of editors and corporate bosses who were lining his portfolio with stock options. But by the 1990s, the resentment he felt among his newspaper peers was not just business. It was personal.     "He was devastated by the way the people at the Tribune reacted," said his wife, Judy. "I went up to his office on Thursday, the day before the protest, to get him to go out for dinner and he was at his desk. He was depressed and disappointed. He couldn't understand how anyone could think after all the years of writing columns that he was a racist. He was very hurt."     On the Friday of the demonstration, when Royko returned from the Sunset Ridge driving range, he had a few drinks and called Howard Tyner, who had also had a few drinks after the long week of dissent.     "Royko called me and said he was quitting," Tyner recalled. "After all the crap of that week I wasn't about to say, `Please don't.' I just said something like, `Let's talk' and we hung up.     "The next day was Saturday and I called his house and asked if it was all right if I came over. I went and we talked for several hours about everything except what we wanted to talk about. Finally, I said, `You're not quitting?' Royko said, `No, in fact, I'm going to write a column for Monday and go back to writing five columns a week just to show everybody I'm not fired.'     For the next two weeks, Royko wrote Monday columns, which he had not been doing for the past two years. Then he reverted to his four-a-week schedule. Four columns a week is a monumental load, but Royko always resisted it because he was so proud that he had written five columns a week for thirty-plus years while his peers often did only one or two.     Besides answering telephone calls from Mexican-Americans, Tyner had been battling the dissent in the newsroom. One of his top editors, a Hispanic, had demanded that he be allowed to write a piece for the op-ed page denouncing Royko on behalf of the Tribune 's Hispanic staffers.     The newsroom resentment was partly caused by Royko himself. Royko never felt comfortable at the Tribune . He was not really a newsman by the time he arrived in 1984. He was a legend. Few of the 500 Tribune newsroom employees dared approach him, and when someone ventured a hesitant "Hello," it was likely to be greeted by a grunt or a scowl. Most people thought it was arrogance. But it was a combination of traits that the his old colleagues at the Daily News had learned to accept. Royko, despite his celebrity, his success, and his moments of arrogance, was shy. Royko also hated mornings. Some mornings he was hungover. Every morning he was facing the demon of the column. As a result, Royko made few friends at the Tribune . His pals were the old Daily News or Sun-Times veterans, several of whom he had helped get jobs at the Tribune . He simply didn't respect most people at the Tribune . He had spent too much of his professional life "pissing all over those people" to suddenly turn around and accept them as good newsmen. And there were several colleagues he actively disliked and disdained.     It was also a generational passage. By the time Royko arrived at the Tribune he was fifty-two years old, not an age to enjoy the barroom camaraderie of cub reporters. And the barroom revelry that was so much a part of the journalism of his youth was gone. Reporters no longer hung around to bitch about assignments or editors, replay their investigation, trade ideas, or gloat over a scoop. Reporters in the 1980s ate salads at their desks and went to health clubs after work. Royko didn't like much about them. They no longer spent all their hours at their jobs. They didn't drink. He didn't think they worked very hard, and he was certain they had no idea how hard he worked.     For Royko, the column was everything. It came before his wife, before his children, before his friends, before his golf game. A good column could put him in a euphoric mood. A finished column could send him to his favorite bar in search of a reward. Mike Royko, writer, was not the same as Mike Royko, regular guy, the sweet person who loved shooting off fireworks on July Fourth, scaring trick or treaters on Halloween, and slyly explaining the difference between a Von Karajan and Solti recording of the same symphony. The column created Mike Royko, the tough, witty celebrity.     "The column took a terrible toll on him," said Hanke Gratteau, one of Royko's closest friends. "He paid a great price. Everyday it had to be good. Everyday it had to be important to everyone. Everything else had to come second. The family had to come second. His health had to come second. He worked when he was sick, when he was exhausted, when he was hung over."     Royko dedicated Boss , his 1971 best-selling book on the Daley machine, to his sons, David and Robby, "for all the Sundays missed." David wondered about that. "There were never any Sundays, not while he was writing Boss , not before it, and not after. Every Sunday of my life he was working on the column."     After the ruckus over the Mexican column, Royko began to work more and more from the third-floor office in his prairie-style home overlooking the ravines of Winnetka. Each day he would go to his computer and look over his financial statement, figuring out if he had enough money to retire. In 1990 he told Chicago Magazine , "In two years I expect to be out of the column. I expect to call it quits. I know my craft. I don't have to prove anything." He had said the same thing to interviewers two years earlier and would repeat it two years later. Some of his friends doubted he would ever retire.     In 1995 he told Tyner he was quitting at the end of the year. In 1996 he talked of quitting in the fall. But he never quit. He had come into the newspaper business when police reporters were on the take from mobsters, and editors paid more attention to advertisers than readers. He had one newspaper, the Daily News , folded under him and another, the Sun-Times , sold to a man he could not respect or work for. He insulted and taunted the most vicious killers in Chicago and ridiculed the most powerful big-city political boss of the century. Royko had not only seen the city and its newspapers change for the better; in small and large ways he was responsible for both. If, in the fourth decade of writing a daily column he was not as appreciated by his peers, if newspaper readers were a dwindling crowd and if newspapers were becoming homogenized and bland, it did not affect Royko's passion for damning hypocrisy and stupidity in the same breath. He never waved the flag of the First Amendment, although he was its best example for forty years.     "He was the soul of journalism," said James D. Squires, editor of the Tribune from 1981 until 1989. "He inherited from H. L. Mencken the mantle of reminding all of us all the time of our responsibilities to seek out the truth and represent all the people. It was Mencken, and then Royko, who took the load on their shoulders and defined peer review, who made us all watchdogs of one another and in doing so made newspapers their very best. Royko was the one who inspired my generation and this generation to act and think on behalf of the interests of the little people. Hopefully that spirit will live on because Royko was the last one who could inspire it. There is no one out there today like him."     Royko would have scoffed. He refused to be labeled or praised for anything other than his hard work. He liked to call himself "the tallest midget in the circus." He was far more interested in preserving the rights of everyone to live as they pleased so long as they did not disturb his right to do the same. Beneath the millions of words that created so much laughter was a toughness that drove him. It was far deeper than the facade of rudeness that sparked his well-publicized barroom brawls or disappointed admirers.     That toughness was in his blood. Copyright (c) 2001 F. Richard Ciccone. All rights reserved.