Steve Dunleavy, the hard-hitting, hard-drinking journalist who helped define The New York Post as a crime reporter, editor and premier columnist, died Monday at his home on Long Island. He was 81.
The cause was unknown.
“Steve Dunleavy was one of the greatest reporters of all time,” said Rupert Murdoch, owner of The Post.
“Whether competing with his own father in the famous Sydney, Australia, tabloid wars, or over the last 40 years in New York, Steve’s life story is littered with great scoops. He was much loved by both his colleagues and editors.”
“His passing is the end of a great era,” Murdoch added.
Over the course of his epic career, Dunleavy scored countless exclusives, including interviews with the mother of Sirhan Sirhan, Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin, and confessed “Boston Strangler” Albert DeSalvo. The rapist also posed in the nude for Dunleavy, who had smuggled a camera into prison for the story.
Dunleavy also flew to California to entice three members of Elvis Presley’s “Memphis Mafia” bodyguards to reveal the singer’s drug addiction.
The ensuing series of stories boosted the circulation of the Star tabloid, where Dunleavy was then working, from 2 million to 3 million, and also led to the publication of a best-selling book, “Elvis: What Happened?” shortly before Presley’s death.
Fans of the King responded with death threats that followed Dunleavy to The Post — where someone even sent a hearse with instructions to pick up his body.
That tale is one of many inspired by the legendary newsman, many of which start in a tavern.
Perhaps the most memorable involves a snowy night at the Upper East Side media hangout Elaine’s, where Dunleavy met the Norwegian fiancée of an Australian journalist.
While his pals decamped to another bar across the street, Dunleavy and the fiancée wound up outside, “humping in the snow, arses going up and down,” former Daily Mail correspondent George Gordon told The New Yorker for a profile of Dunleavy in 2000.
“As we were watching, a snowplow came up the street and ran over Dunleavy’s foot,” Gordon said.
“By this time, the entire bar was in uproarious laughter.”
Dunleavy “was so loaded, it didn’t matter,” Gordon said, but was eventually taken by ambulance to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with a broken foot.
Upon learning of the incident, rival journalist Pete Hamill bitterly sniped, “I hope it wasn’t his writing foot.”
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