There are few newspaper luminaries who, by virtue of seeing their byline, you make a point of reading if for no other reason that you will be engaged, entertained and the time spent reading will have been well worth the effort.
Such were the writings of R.W. Apple, the not-so-gentle giant of The New York Times, who died today of cancer at age 71.
Because of the roilling changes in the newspaper industry, seeing another reporter with as checkered a career is unlikely at best. Few are the correspondents who roam the world, then help define modern political coverage, while then settling into a more comfortable life as an eminent grise, churning out pieces on travel, food and architecture from wherever the mood struck him.
Todd Purdum's obit of Apple is an elegant account of a complex, irascible man that is thankfully atypical of the drearily perfunctory treatment the Times has given many of its own departed. But Apple deserved no less.
With his Dickensian byline, Churchillian brio and Falstaffian appetites, Mr. Apple, who was known as Johnny, was a singular presence at The Times almost from the moment he joined the metropolitan staff in 1963. He remained a colorful figure as new generations of journalists around him grew more pallid, and his encyclopedic knowledge, grace of expression — and above all his expense account — were the envy of his competitors, imitators and peers.
There are many journalists who want to be like him. Too bad, they'll never get the chance.
To get a taste of what Johnny Apple, was most passionate about, this interview from PBS' Newshour offers a nice flavor.
However, this profile from the Seattle Times from 2004 reminds us that Apple was ever the newsman first, gourmand second.