When I interviewed Chicago legend Studs Terkel back in 2003, he wrapped up with a defiant line he'd been using in interviews for quite a while: "I don't intend to fade out, I intend to check out." True to his word, he worked right up to his death today at age 96; his latest book, P.S.: Further Thoughts From A Lifetime Of Listening, is due out in November.
It's hard for people outside of Chicago to understand exactly how much of a fixture Studs Terkel is to us here, or how much we feel like an era has ended. He's been a TV and radio personality, a sportscaster and DJ, an ad man, and a labor organizer, among many other jobs, but above all, he – like his longtime friend Mike Royko – was a writer who spent decades making journalism personal for the people of Chicago by telling their stories.
In a long string of books dating back to the 1960s, Terkel interviewed people from all walks of life about specific subjects, exploring the specificities and differences of their experiences with jobs, war, religion, politics, and much more, but also finding commonalities between them. He may be best-known for his Pulitzer-winner The Great War, or for Working, which later became a hit play, but one of his bravest books was Race a book of interviews in which ordinary people held forth on the taboo subject of ethnicity in America – theirs and others'.
Studs had a widely varied and colorful career of the kind everyone else in his field can only hope for, and he was a hilarious and warm-hearted man who will be deeply missed. We knew he was aging and in increasingly poor health, but on some level, we still all hoped he was immortal; so much about him summed up what we love about this city, and he was one of the voices who most helped define it over the last 50 years.