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Mike Royko

Margot DiMuzio
Jamieson School, Chicago

Born at St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital in Chicago in 1932, Mike Royko enjoyed writing for different newspapers in Chicago for over thirty years. He was known as the man that "lasted and lasted and lasted."

Growing up in Chicago, the second son and fourth child of Michael and Helen Royko, Mike Royko enjoyed reading selections from his favorite columnist Irv Kupcinet, after whom he patterned himself. When Royko was not reading selections from Irv Kupcinet, he was watching his favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs. Royko was best known for his sarcastic and witty personality as well as being a highly prolific journalist.

Royko was born near the Northwest Side in Chicago. His father was an immigrant from the Ukraine and his mother was Polish-American. The Roykos bought a tavern at 2122 North Milwaukee Avenue and they named it the "Blue Sky Lounge." Royko and his family lived above the tavern. Royko frequently took his turn helping the family behind the bar with the business. In 1940 the Roykos bought a second tavern on Armitage Avenue because their first one had burned.

At the age of ten, his parents divorced. Royko attended Salmon Chase Elementary School. After graduating from grammar school, he went to YMCA high school. Royko attended Wright Junior College, and after dropping out during his second year in 1952, he joined the Air Force. After spending three years in Korea, Royko was sent to O'Hare Airport in Chicago to work as a radio operator. There in Chicago, Royko married his childhood sweetheart Carol Joyce Duckman. They had two sons, Rob and David.

While working at O'Hare, he started writing for the base newspaper. In 1956 Royko ended his years in the Air Force to work as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News. After experience as a nighttime reporter, Royko became a writer for the Chicago Daily News on September 6, 1963. Royko's first column was about a Chicago cab driver who owned a tavern. The column appeared on page fourteen. The newspaper staff did a readership survey and found out that he had more readers on page fourteen than the front page had, so they moved him up to the third page. That year he was writing two columns a week. Once when Royko was extremely tired, he accidentally set his desk on fire. Nevertheless, in 1961 his columns began to run five times a week. In 1971 Royko's best-read book, BOSS, was published. The book was a biography of Richard J. Daley and, for it Royko won the Pulitzer Prize in the category of commentary in 1972.

After the Chicago Daily News went bankrupt in 1978, Royko was hired by Charles Percy to work for the Chicago Sun-Times. After work Royko often went to his favorite bar, The Billy Goat Tavern. Sam Sianis, the owner, said Royko was like a brother to him. On September 19, 1979, Royko's wife Carol died of a brain hemorrhage, and Royko received much sympathy from his readers.

In 1981 Royko received the H.L. Mencken award, and in 1982 he won the Ernie Pyle Award. Throughout the years he created humorous, satirical characters like Slats Grobnik and others. On January 10, 1984, Royko quit working at the Sun-Times because of a change of ownership.

On January 11, 1984, Royko debuted at the Chicago Tribune. He enjoyed working at the Tribune very much. On May 21, 1985, he married Judith Ardnt. Mike and Judith had one son, Sam, and one daughter, Kate. Royko was the first to be named "Best Columnist in America" from the Washington Journal. He won the same award in 1987, 1988, and 1990. In 1990 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Press Club.

On March 30, 1997, while vacationing in Florida with his family, he suffered a minor stroke and was hospitalized. Then, on April 23, he was hospitalized again, this time in Chicago after paramedics found him unconscious in his home. On April 29, 1997, Mike Royko died at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

After his death it was stated that "Mike Royko had established himself as the premier journalist of working class America." He will always be remembered as the voice of the working people of America. Mike Royko wrote 900 to 1,000 words a day 5 times a week, for more than thirty years. More than 500 articles of his approximately 8,000 original articles were republished in nationwide newspapers. Mike Royko was possibly one of the best contemporary journalists in American history because of his brilliant and prodigious writing as well as his sharp and witty commentary.[From F. Richard Ciccone, Royko; Jerry Crimmins and Rick Kogan, "Newspaper Legend Royko Dies," Chicago Tribune, Ap. 30, 1997; Pamela Cytrybaum, "The Royko Chronicles," Chicago Tribune Magazine, Ap. 25, 1999; A. A. Dornfield, Behind the Front Page; Kenan Heise, Chicago Originals; Doug Moe, The World of Mike Royko; Mike Royko, Dr. Kookie, Your Right; Mike Royko, Like I was Sayin'; Mike Royko, Set Who? Sez Me!]

ILLINOIS HISTORY / DECEMBER 2001 15


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