Studs Terkel, the Pulitzer-prize winning US author, activist and radio personality who created a vast oral history of 20th century American society, died on Friday at his Chicago home, said the radio station where he spent the bulk of his career. He was 96.
For 45 years, Terkel interviewed the famous, the infamous and the obscure for the fine arts radio station WFMT in Chicago. He chronicled the tumultuous changes that transformed the US, from the Cold War to the civil rights movement to the rise of the Internet age, focusing on the human scale of history.
An inspired listener, Terkel had a remarkable ability to get people to talk about themselves and the forces that shaped their lives.
“He created the radio-interview-as-art form and established himself as one of America’s most significant broadcasters and authors,” WFMT program director Peter Whorf once said.
Terkel published his first bestseller based on his interviews in 1967. Division Street: America told the stories, in their own words, of ordinary people — businessmen, prostitutes, blacks, Hispanics — and explored everyday life and divisions in society.
He won the Pulitzer Prize for a 1985 book of remembrances of World War II entitled The Good War.
Born Louis Terkel in New York City on May 16, 1912, Terkel liked to say “I came up the year the Titanic went down.”
He moved to Chicago in 1922, where he learned about the world from the union workers, dissidents, religious fanatics and labor organizers who took turns on the soap box in a park near the boarding house his parents ran.
Terkel began his radio career writing and then acting in soap operas and plays for a public works program.
He landed his first radio show in 1944 after a brief stint in the air force.
He switched to television in 1950, headlining the popular comedy Stud’s Place on NBC. But the show was canceled.
Terkel continued to write books, speak at rallies for various causes, attend literary events and sit down for scores interviews.
At Terkel’s bedside when he died was a copy of his latest book, P.S. Further Thoughts from a Lifetime of Listening, which is due out today.
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