Bill Zehme was a friend of yours, a friend of Frank Sinatra.
Whether you’re an obscure Chicago author or a king of late-night TV, Zehme will direct all his attention and Midwestern charm in your direction, making you as cool as a Bombay Sapphire Martini. Makes me feel good. With a twist, Jillies.
As a writer for Esquire, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and other top-tier magazines, at a time when magazines really mattered, Zehme broke through the glorious veneer of celebrity, capturing a real person within it, and writing the best-selling book about Jay Leno. I wrote a book. , Andy Kaufman and his idol, Sinatra.
Zehme, 64, died Sunday at Weiss Memorial Hospital after a long battle with cancer.
“Bill was first and foremost an incredibly talented writer, with a rare ability to get deep into the heads and hearts of celebrities like Andy Kaufman and Frank Sinatra,” said Playboy magazine. daughter Christy Hefner said. Founder Hugh Hefner and former Chairman and CEO of Playboy Enterprises. “He was a personal friend and one of the nicest, funniest men I’ve ever known.”
Zehme is a master of celebrity profiles, a form he haughtily looked upon.
“I’m not really into most people,” he confessed to Ted Allen in Chicago magazine in 1996.
he shouldn’t have done that.
“Bill let people talk to him who wouldn’t talk to anyone else, even members of his own family,” says Bob Carson, a former Sun-Times writer and best-selling author of “Shadow Divers.” I was. “And to understand how it all happened, you had to join him for dinner once in the dark corner of a good steakhouse. He was really interested in people. His for.”
“He was able to remind me of things I had almost forgotten, to shape and structure them,” Leno says in his autobiography, lead by my chin, co-authored with the comedian and late-night star. Zehme wrote not one but two memoirs for Regis Philbin.
From Tom Hanks to Johnny Depp, Woody Allen to Madonna, screenwriter Cameron Crowe said in his introduction to Zehm’s 2002 collection Intimate Strangers, “He’s the king of first sentences, of course. ” writes. Lift into his car. “Like his guide on a great tour, he invites you into your inner sanctuary, whispering in your ear with a comical and sometimes poignant voice that this is only between us.”
Zehme stripped naked with Sharon Stone and was the last person to interview Johnny Carson. He spent years researching Carson’s life closely, but abandoned the long-delayed project because of an illness that made him one of the great potentials of the biographer’s art.
“Bill finished the first half of Johnny Carson’s book and it was a masterpiece,” Carson said. “And he may have ended up, but he didn’t want to interview a third cousin he had just discovered, or a friend of a friend of a friend who came out of his research and had a great anecdote to add.” I was always forced.”
The son of Suzanne and Robert Seeme, who ran a flower shop in Frothmoor, Bill grew up in South Holland. He graduated from Loyola University in 1980.
Frank’s daughter Nancy Sinatra said, “Chicago would be lonely without him, and so would I.
“He was a true Chicagoan at heart,” said WGN radio host Bob Sirott. “He never got tired. ‘Can you believe I had lunch with Johnny Carson?’ Maybe part of it is a kid from Chicago who grew up here. He was thrilled to meet Jack Brickhouse, but he was just as excited to meet all these huge stars. “
“I really enjoyed getting to know Bill,” said Silot. “He was our link to a bygone era of show business.”
Zehme’s marriage ended in divorce after four years.
Survivors include daughter Lucy Reeves and sister Janet “Betsy” Archer. He was holding the hand of his sister and girlfriend Jenny Engstrom when he died. “He was waiting for us to get there today to say goodbye,” Engstrom said. “Just a gentleman.”
He was very helpful to beginning writers.
“I met Bill when I was a data entry clerk at The Sun-Times, and I called him at the height of his power. I was establishing myself as a magazine writer for the magazine,” Courson said. “And he spent a few hours on the phone with me, all the while telling me how honored he was to help me.”
“He was also incredibly kind,” said Hefner. “He literally skipped chemotherapy sessions to give a speech at my father’s memorial service. It’s one of those moments when you’re grateful to be, there’s someone known by so many, known by so many, cared for by so many. A tried-and-true friend who would leave an army of friends behind.”