LA Observed

Al Martinez, our columnist, died today

al-martinez-close.jpgI received a call from Al Martinez' wife Joanne telling me that Al died this afternoon. He was 85 and had been at West Hills Hospital for treatment of congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. Al had been a reporter and columnist for the Los Angeles Times and his beloved Oakland Tribune, columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News, the Topanga Messenger and for AARP, and for the last year-plus he contributed to LA Observed.

In 2012 the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens in San Marino mounted an exhibition of his work and papers and declared Al to be the Bard of LA.

Al's books include the novel "The Last City Room" and nonfiction books "I’ll Be Damned If I’ll Die in Oakland," "City of Angles: A Drive-By Portrait of L.A.," "Ashes in the Rain," "Dancing Under the Moon," "Reflections," "Rising Voices: A New Generation" and "Barkley: A Dog’s Journey." His TV writing credits include “Out on the Edge,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Bronk,” and “Jigsaw John,” which Martinez created based on a story he did about an LAPD detective.

I'll post information about services as I get it. Here's the LA Times obituary by Valerie J. Nelson.

Al worked at the LA Times for 38 years, starting as a Metro reporter. He moved on to writing columns for Metro and the Valley edition, when that existed, and was actually let go by the Times twice. The first time, in 2007, came during the Tribune-Sam Zell frenzy when almost anything was possible at the Times.

Also see:
Bill Boyarsky on his friend the story teller
Martinez was pushed out by a new regime in Los Angeles and spoke out about it, seeding an outcry that was so loud and livid that the editors relented and gave Al a new column in the California section. "Of all the stupidities committed by the new owners of the Los Angeles Times, the dumping of Al Martinez is one of worst," our columnist Bill Boyarsky wrote at the time. Alas, in 2009 the Times axed Martinez for good. A few months later he joined the Daily News and stayed there as a columnist until April of 2013. While at the Daily News he wrote about the death of his daughter, about his heart attack, about getting medically stoned for journalism and poignantly about aging.

In July 2013 he suggested writing columns for LA Observed — he wanted to keep his connection with readers, and they with him. I was impressed by the intensity of the love that Al's fans have for him. He wanted to write every week on a schedule, so they would know where to find him. I think the exchange with his community of readers kept him going as his diseases took a harder toll.

Al's final column went up on LA Observed in November. It had some fun with the end of the election season and how he handled campaign workers who tried to get him to vote their way thinking his heritage was Mexican.

"'I am Basque,' I said in the same challenging tone Kennedy took in 1963 when he declared, 'Ich bin ein Berliner.' I would have said it in Spanish but I don't know how. No hablo Espanol.

"When I said I was Basque, they replied almost in unison, 'You're whaaat?' Fear crept into their eyes. What in the hell was a Basque? Some kind of disease? In case it was, they were out of there, and I had at last achieved a way of warding them off. I carry a tinkly little silver bell now and wear a sign around my neck that says, 'I am Basque,' and no one will get near me."

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