James Crumley, R.I.P.
Missoula author James Crumley, 68, died Wednesday afternoon at St. Patrick Hospital after many years of health complications.
he died, Crumley was surrounded by family and friends, including his
wife, Martha Elizabeth, and Missoula author and county emergency
services director Bob Reid.
“We were friends in the fullest
sense,” Reid said. “I admired him for many things. He always kind of
had this off-kilter way of looking at things – different than what you
would imagine. He had a real hard-nosed exterior, yet at the same time
he was patient and understanding of many different things and many
pleasant eternity. And I hope he knows how much he’s respected and
admired by those left behind.” Also see tributes by Luca Conti, Patrick Shawn Bagley, Mary Reagan, David Montgomery, Jean-Marc Lahererre, J. Kingston Pierce, Jeffrey Ford, James W. Hall, Sean Doolittle, Dave White, Keir Graff, Abigail Nussbaum and Robert Ferrigno.
To read about Crumley during more robust times, please check out:
- John Williams’ 1988 interview as well as his chapter on Crumley published in INTO THE BADLANDS
- William Kittredge’s account of drinking with the author in Missoula
- Craig McDonald’s tribute, featuring a partial transcript of a 2005 interview with Crumley
- Laura Lippman’s interview in CrimeSpree
- Crumley’s essay on Richard Yates at the Boston Review.
- John Schulian’s 2001 interview of Crumley is reprinted at Jan Herman’s blog
- An archive of Crumley’s papers from 1965-1990 at The University of Texas San-Marcos.
Though many of the numerous writers in the now-famous Montana
Mafia–centered in Missoula– were quite accessible, Jim was, well,
accessible AND easy. Easy in that you didn’t have to be anything other
than what you were around him. Easy in that it didn’t take much to make
his body shake with a laugh. Easy in that he was always glad to see
you. And it was genuine.
Half the time I didn’t understand what
came out of his mouth, covered as it was by a full mustache and beard,
and thickened with a couple scotches or Coors (in a can, original only,
never light) and with me being half-deaf, I was at a double
disadvantage. But no matter…hanging with Crum was always a joy. We’d
watch football and yell at the screen. We’d munch on goodies brought by
friends during the UnSuperbowl, or whatever Martha called the gathering
of women–mostly–who weren’t as into the football as those who sat
glued to the TV all day on Superbowl Sunday. I loved football, but I
could pay attention to other things too. 🙂 Some of us played with the
cats; some watched the sunset from the deck. Mostly we jsut felt lucky
to be among such wonderful, interesting people.
I know Jim
changed a great deal in the last years of his life…his body began to
break down, and in the end, after two trips to San Francisco to see
specialists, he was told to go home and enjoy the rest of his life.
Some say he was unrecognizable at the end. In many ways, I am glad I
didn’t see him. I like to remember him in his leather vest, holding
court at Charlie’s, sitting on a stool underneath black and white
photographs of all the people who’d warmed that seat before him. He
came up to me after one of my readings once, at the Old Post, and
recited back to me a line from one of my poems: “or don the cheap
slicker of slective memory.” He liked that line. I was honored, and
humbled. I mean, he remembered that line. That kind of generosity of spirit was the James Crumley I knew.
UPDATE TWO: Obits by way of the Los Angeles Times, the NYT, KPAX and the Washington Post, and the Missoulian has an extended tribute featuring reminisces from Crumley’s friends. Just about everyone who knew him, the paper writes, has a favorite Crumley story. “I’ve got about 2,000 of them,” says William Kittredge. “But none of them belong in the Missoulian.”