David Carr, a Minneapolis native whose career as a writer and editor led him from the Twin Cities Reader to the New York Times, died suddenly Thursday night after collapsing in the Times newsroom. He was 58.
Carr had been with the Times since 2002 and became one of its most recognized and respected voices as its media columnist, chronicling the industry’s efforts to remake itself in the face of dramatic changes.
Times editor Dean Baquet, who was at the hospital when Carr died, told the Times staff that Carr “was the finest media reporter of his generation, a remarkable and funny man who was one of the leaders of our newsroom.’’
Carr’s former colleagues in the Twin Cities were left shaken by the loss of someone they called a friend, mentor and one of the most talented journalists they’d known. To them, Carr was larger than life. He was a consummate journalist — relentless and passionate in his reporting and gifted in his writing. He was an entertaining storyteller and one of the most loyal friends who “smoked like a chimney.”
“David was one of if not the most gifted journalists I’ve ever known. He had an incredible gift of language,” said former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who became publisher of the Twin Cities Reader when Carr hired him. “He was absolutely fearless in what he said and how he said it. David was unquestionably a force of nature. He was an enormous personality who required a significant amount of the oxygen in the room but could also use that to hold a lot of people on his shoulders and usually move them forward.”
Carr’s rise to a being such a prominent journalist is all the more remarkable for the depths from which he rose.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Carr led a roller-coaster life as a writer, drug abuser, confidant to the powerful and an in-your-face media personality.
His 2008 memoir, “The Night of the Gun,” drew rave reviews and opened old wounds. It was largely set in the Twin Cities, from its back alleys to the State Capitol, and invokes every big local story of that era, from the gang murder of Christine Kreitz to the fall of banker Deil Gustafson.
Parts of his account are disputed by friends like former Minneapolis Police Chief Tony Bouza, an unabashed Carr fan who nonetheless said the writer probably imagined some of what happened, a result of drug-induced paranoia.
For the past 25 years, Carr wrote about media. He joined the Times as a business reporter covering the magazine industry. His column, which appeared in the Monday business section, ranged over print, digital, film, radio and television. Before joining the Times, Carr was a contributing writer for Atlantic Monthly and New York magazine.
“He had a unique style of writing eloquently about the gritty, harsh reality of raw addiction and the painful but successful struggle to overcome it,” said William Cope Moyers, vice president of public affairs at Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. “I’ve been clean for over 20 years — as long as David.”
“He was a tough cookie, kind of grizzled. Seemed older than his age,” Moyers said. “And yet he was tireless in his pursuit of recovery and tireless in his pursuit as a journalist. He was a consummate journalist but also a heartfelt realist.”
In a story posted Thursday evening on its website, the New York Times described Carr this way: "As a cancer survivor with a throaty croak and a stork-like posture, he was a curmudgeonly personality whose intellectual cockiness and unwillingness to suffer fools found their way into his prose."
Carr became the embodiment of the Times as the surprise scene-stealer of a 2011 documentary about the paper, “Page One: Inside The New York Times,” in which he is seen not only reporting stories but also defending the honor of the paper against offhand insults.
“The moviemakers must have felt that they had found their Jimmy Breslin or their Hildy Johnson [the real and fictional archetypes of the crusty, hard-living journalist] when they found him,” Michael Kinsley wrote in reviewing the film (not terribly favorably) for the Times. “Mr. Carr is widely admired for his reporting, his intelligence and his Tough Old Coot routine.”
Eric Eskola, former WCCO radio reporter and co-host of “Almanac,” a Minnesota public affairs show, was enamored of Carr’s storytelling. “Even if I don’t like what he’s writing about, like some technology thing I didn’t care about, I read it anyways because the writing is so good.”
He was charismatic and enthusiastic in whatever he did, said Claude Peck, a Star Tribune editor. “And no one could talk journalism like David Carr. … He was very complicated person. He had a lot of demons … the drugs and alcohol. But he was also a big AA guy. He was always going to his meetings.
“He woke up early and stayed out late. Even when he was in recovery, he liked to stay at the bar later than anyone else did. He was like a shark. He just never seemed to sleep.”
Twin Cities journalist Brian Lambert remembers Carr before he went into addiction treatment. “Back in the day, he was just this ridiculous amount of fun to be with. He went off the rails for a while.”
But to Lambert and so many other local journalists, Carr was someone to admire.
“He was funny and smart simultaneously. Impertinent,” Lambert said. “It was all the stuff that makes a good reporter.”
A University of Minnesota alumnus, Carr lived in Montclair, N.J., with his wife, Jill Rooney Carr, and their daughter Maddie. He also has twin daughters, Erin and Meagan.
The New York Times and Star Tribune staff reporter Mike Kaszuba contributed to this report.