Mike Royko

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Mike Royko
File:Mike Royko.jpg
Born Michael Royko
(1932-09-19)September 19, 1932
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Died April 29, 1997(1997-04-29) (aged 64)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Cause of death Brain aneurysm
Resting place Acacia Park Cemetery
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Nationality American
Occupation Journalistcolumnist
Years active 1955−1997

Michael "Mike" Royko (September 19, 1932 – April 29, 1997) was a Chicago newspaper columnist, winner of the 1972 Pulitzer Prize for commentary. Over his 30-year career, he wrote over 7,500 daily columns for three newspapers, the Chicago Daily News, the Chicago Sun-Times, and the Chicago Tribune.

Young reporter

Mike Royko grew up in Chicago, living in an apartment above a bar. His mother, Helen (née Zak), was Polish, and his father, Michael Royko, Ukrainian (born in Dolyna).[1] He briefly attended Wright Junior College and then enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1952.[2]

On becoming a columnist, he drew on experiences from his childhood. He began his newsman's career as a columnist in 1955 for The O'Hare News (Air Force base newspaper), the City News Bureau of Chicago and Lerner Newspapers' Lincoln-Belmont Booster[3] before working at the Chicago Daily News as a reporter, becoming an irritant to the City's politicians with penetrating and skeptical questions and reports.


File:Boss byMikeRoyko jacket.jpg
Boss (1971), Royko's unauthorized biography of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley spent 26 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list.

Reporter Mike Royko covered Cook County politics and government in a weekly political column, soon supplemented with a second, weekly column reporting about Chicago's folk music scene. The success of those columns earned him a daily column in 1964, writing about all topics for the Daily News, a liberal afternoon newspaper. His column appeared five days a week until 1992, when he cut back to four days a week.[4] Studs Terkel explained Royko's incredible productivity and longevity by simply saying, "He is possessed by a demon."[5] In 1972, Royko received the Pulitzer Prize for commentary as a Daily News man.

When the Daily News closed, Royko worked for its allied morning newspaper, the Chicago Sun-Times. In 1984, Rupert Murdoch, for whom Royko said he would never work, bought the Sun-Times. Royko commented that "No self-respecting fish would want to be wrapped in a Murdoch paper", and "[H]is goal is not quality journalism. His goal is vast power for Rupert Murdoch, political power".[6] Mike Royko then worked for the rival Chicago Tribune, a paper he had said he'd never work for and at which he never felt comfortable.[7][8][9] For a period after the takeover, the Sun-Times reprinted Royko's columns, while new columns appeared in the Tribune.[10]

Many columns are collected in books; yet, his most famous book remains his unauthorized biography of Richard J. Daley, Boss, a best-selling non-fiction portrait of the first Mayor Richard Daley, and the City of Chicago under his mayoralty.

In 1976, a Royko column criticized the Chicago Police Department for providing an around-the-clock guard for Frank Sinatra. Sinatra responded with a letter calling Royko a "pimp," which Royko then published in his column. Sinatra's letter is now valued at $15,000.[11][12]

Like some other columnists, Royko created fictitious personae with whom he could "converse", the most famous being Slats Grobnik, a comically stereotyped working class Polish-Chicagoan. Generally, the Slats Grobnik columns described two men discussing a current event in a Polish neighborhood bar. In 1973, Royko collected several of the Grobnik columns in a collection titled Slats Grobnik and Other Friends. Another of Royko's characters was his pseudo-psychiatrist Dr. I. M. Kookie (eponymous protagonist of Dr. Kookie, You're Right! [1989]). Dr. Kookie, purportedly the founder of the Asylumism religion — according to which Earth was settled by a higher civilization's rejected insane people — satirized pop culture and pop psychology. Through his columns, Royko helped make his favorite after-work bar, the Billy Goat Tavern, famous, and popularized the curse of the Billy Goat. Billy Goat's reciprocated by sponsoring the Daily News's 16-inch softball team, and featuring Royko's columns on their walls.[13]

Royko's columns were syndicated country-wide in more than 600 newspapers. He produced more than 7,500 columns in a four-decade career. He also wrote or compiled dozens of "That's Outrageous!" columns for Reader's Digest.


Royko died of a brain aneurysm, aged 64. Royko is entombed in Acacia Mausoleum, Acacia Park Cemetery, Chicago.


Royko was a fervent devotee of 16-inch softball as a player and team sponsor. After his death, he was inducted into the Chicago 16-inch Softball Hall of Fame, an honor Royko's family insists he would have considered as meaningful as his Pulitzer. In the closing seconds of "Royko at the Goat," the documentary by Scott Jacobs, Royko is heard saying, "The Pulitzer Prize can't compare" to hitting a home run.[citation needed]

Royko was a lifelong fan and critic of the Chicago Cubs. Every spring he would devote a column to a "Cubs Quiz", posing obscure trivia questions about mediocre Cubs players from his youth, such as Heinz Becker and Dom Dallessandro. Just prior to the 1990 World Series he wrote about the findings of another fan, Ron Berler, who had discovered a spurious correlation called the "Ex-Cubs Factor". Berler and Royko predicted that the heavily favored Oakland Athletics, who had a "critical mass" of ex-Cubs players on their Series roster, would lose the championship to the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds achieved an upset outcome in a four-game sweep of the A's, with Royko's sponsorship propelling the Ex-Cubs Factor theory into the spotlight. Carl Erskine repeats Royko's claim of the Ex-Cubs Factor, and applies it to the 1951 Dodgers, in his book Carl Erskine's Tales from the Dodgers Dugout.[14]


Books by Royko

See also


  1. Jackson, Kenneth T.; Markoe, Karen; Arnie Markoe (1998). The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives: 1997-1999. Simon and Schuster. pp. 499–501. ISBN 0-684-80663-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Applegate, Edd (1996). Literary Journalism: A Biographical Dictionary of Writers and Editors. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 221–223. ISBN 0-313-29949-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. St. James Encyclopedia of Pop Culture
  4. Terry, Don (1997). Mike Royko, the Voice of the Working Class, Dies at 64, New York Times
  5. Terkel, p. 206
  6. F. Richard, Ciccone. Royko: A Life in Print. p. 339.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. http://books.google.com/books?id=XmGOt346misC&pg=PA124&dq=royko+never+work+for+tribune&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Fzk6UqrDN9OkyAGAnICACQ&ved=0CD8Q6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=royko%20never%20work%20for%20tribune&f=false
  8. http://books.google.com/books?id=pOeES8HTUFcC&pg=PA16&dq=royko+never+work+for+tribune&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Fzk6UqrDN9OkyAGAnICACQ&ved=0CDMQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=royko%20never%20work%20for%20tribune&f=false
  9. Terkel, p. 205
  10. Jacob Weisberg, I Like Mike, Why Royko of Chicago was our greatest columnist. Slate.com, April 11, 1999
  11. Royko Column, May 6, 1976, Mr. Sinatra Sends a Letter, reprinted in One More Time:The Best of Mike Royko
  12. Antique's Roadshow Frank Sinatra signed letter, accessed December 3, 2011.
  13. Billy Goat Tavern History
  14. Carl Erskine's Tales from the Dodgers Dugout, p.36, retrieved October 12, 2001.
  15. Instrument procedures for Chicago O'Hare International Airport

Further reading

External links