He died at the age of 96, still enjoying his daily cigar and at least one martini. Up to his last days he continued what he enjoyed doing most in life: Working. He once wrote: I took a vacation once - it involved a beach - and to tell you the truth, I had no idea what to do with myself. It was torture. Work is life. Without it, there is no life.
Studs built a name for himself by seeking out the ordinary people of our world and showing them as extraordinary, and certainly seeking out the famous and making them appear ordinary.
I have, after a fashion, been celebrated for having celebrated the lives of the uncelebrated among us; for lending voice to the face in the crowd, he wrote in the opening line of his memoir Touch and Go.
He had a journalistic style like no other and scoffed at the notion of the most sacred word in journalism: objectivity.
There aint no such animal as objectivity, he once told National Public Radio. We all have opinions. If there is not an objective, what is the point? Being objective means taking the status quo, when you question the status quo you are controversial. Anyone who questions authority is often called non-objective, so I object to that word.
Controversy followed Studs early in his career as he found himself blacklisted during the McCarthy era of the 50s. His popular TV show, Studs Place, was dropped by the network after his phone was wiretapped and he was heard using the word commie. Later in life, Studs would express frustration as he joked about his wifes FBI file being thicker than his.
Despite that blacklisting from television, Terkel found a home at Chicago radio station WFMT in 1952. Following that year, Studs would broadcast his popular morning show for 45 years, doing what he did best: carrying on conversations and bringing out things in people that other journalists were not able to do. He also wrote several books and articles.
Studs would win the Pulitzer Prize for his oral history of The Good War, about WWII. But while many have called that Americas Greatest Generation, he would tell the Chicago Tribune there was even a greater one.
It was in the 60s; there was the civil rights movement, it flourished, at least for a time, and the rise, resurgence, of feminism; the gays and lesbians coming out as free people. So thats the generation, I think the greatest.
He ended his radio career in 1998 with his traditional sign-off Take it easy, but take it. After radio, he continued writing books, and assisting the Chicago History Museum in cataloging 9,000 hours of tapes of his 45 years in radio. He also began to explore the concept of death, something that was driven home to him the year after he retired when his wife of 60 years passed away.
We need to spend more time thinking about death, said Terkel to the BBC. It is something we dont talk too much about.
Studs flirted with death a couple times late in life. In 2004, he fell, requiring dangerous neck surgery for a person of any age. In August 2005, he underwent a risky open-heart procedure to replace a narrowed aortic valve and redo one of the five coronary bypasses hed undergone nine years before. To my knowledge, Studs is the oldest patient to undergo this complex redo, said Dr. Marshall Goldin, the cardiovascular surgeon at Rush University Medical Center who operated on Terkel.
A few years back when he was asked what keeps him going and what his gravestone should read he responded:
My curiosity keeps me going. My epitaph has already been formed: Curiosity did not kill this cat.
Thanks Studs, for 96 years of curiosity. may you be an inspiration to future journalists. Rest in peace and hopefully the guy upstairs is objective.
To learn more about Studs Terkel and to listen to the archives of his radio shows and his great interviews with operatic singers, folk singers, popular singers, stage and movie actresses and actors, blues and jazz musicians, television personalities, writers, poets, playwrights, filmmakers, historians, political commentators, activists in community organizing, labor relations and civil rights; and countless everyday people... check out studsterkel.org.