I remember watching “Eight Men Out” with my father when I was a kid, before I picked up what is now an embarrassingly dorky knowledge of character actors. I don’t do it unless I think there’s a good reason, but I have from time to time identified an actor for whoever was lucky enough to be sitting next to me on the couch. Maybe my girlfriend didn’t know that was M. Emmett Walsh, you know? I know you don’t know her, but she’d totally want to know.
Anyway, the first time anyone ever did this in my presence was my father, who picked out Studs Terkel in his role as the newspaper writer Hugh Connelly in that film. My father recognized his voice. I don’t know if anyone recognized Studs Terkel’s face, but tons of people in generations ranging from those preceding my parents’ to mine recognize Terkel’s voice from his 45 years in radio and his canonic interview-centered works of American social history. Terkel died at 96 today, with a new book due next month and mere days away from (one hopes) seeing the election of a fellow adoptive-Chicagoan for whom he’d been an eloquent advocate.
Rick Kogan’s excellent obituary in the Chicago Tribune is almost laughably long and complicated; for someone who seems to have lived the equivalent of three or four lives, it’s amazing how much other peoples’ lives and thoughts remained interesting to Terkel. Amazing and a little inspiring, even to those of us only faintly familiar with his work.