By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Paul Sullivan

Paul Sullivan has died. I heard it on the way to work this morning on WBZ Radio (AM 1030), where he had hosted a talk show until his illness forced him to step down in June. Sullivan was also political editor of the Lowell Sun. Here’s a rundown of the coverage:

— “The Sullivan Family and the WBZ family lost a real treasure,” says the station’s news director, Peter Casey. “Paul Sullivan brightened up every room he ever entered and every life he ever touched. Right now, our thoughts are with Paul’s wife and their five children and Paul’s extended family.” (WBZ Radio)

— “Paul Sullivan, the irrepressible veteran Sun columnist, popular radio talk show host and educator who turned his battle with cancer into an example of the bravery and grace with which such epics can be fought, has died.” (Lowell Sun)

— “His handling of his illness was a classic insight into the man,” says WBZ-TV (Channel 4) and radio political analyst Jon Keller. “He refused to make a spectacle of it and downplayed it with self-effacing humor.” (Boston Globe)

— “God gave us in eight years what most don’t have in 80,” says Sullivan’s wife, Mary Jo Griffin. “Paul came into my life and taught my girls by example how they should be loved by a man. I’m most grateful for that. I think he is at peace.” (Boston Herald)

I did not know Sully well, but his demeanor was such that you would think you’d known him your entire life. Every so often he’d call me out of the blue and ask whether I could come on his show to talk about a media topic. It was always a welcome invitation. Sully’s style — like that of the late David Brudnoy, whom he replaced in 2004 — was to let you have your say, but at the same time to challenge you if he thought you were laying it on a little thick.

Ironically, and tragically, Sully attained his greatest professional success just as he was beginning what would prove to be a long battle with melanoma. Sullivan learned he had cancer in late 2004, just before Brudnoy himself died of cancer. Sullivan, who’d been a late-night host and frequent Brudnoy fill-in, got the coveted 8 p.m.-to-midnight slot — as Brudnoy had wished — and filled it with distinction during the short time he had left.

Media Nation’s thoughts go out to the Sullivan family and to his professional families, WBZ and the Sun.

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  1. Bill Toscano

    Dan: Where did the Globe play the story?From what I can tell it was in Arts & Entertainment. Was it at least on a section front?I no longer live locally, so all I can see is the front page with the silly summary in the left-hand column.I cannot quite read it, but it does not appear to have been mentioned there, either.At least has it front and center.

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Bill: It’s not in the print edition of either the Globe or the Herald — at least not in the ones I picked up. The Herald says that he died at 9 p.m. yesterday, but we don’t know when the family announced it. I assume that the story that’s in today will appear in print tomorrow (same with the Herald).

  3. michael goldman

    I saw Paul at the Hospice in Lowell this past Friday and was once again overwhelmed by his humor and grace in the face of his awful desease…One never knows how they will react to the unfairness of life, but Paul took the reality of his impending end as one grateful to have heard the genuine expressions of respect and love from listeners, friends, and family…Paul was a good man who lived a good life and I was lucky to have been his friend…

  4. Anonymous

    What do you say about a complex guy like Paul Sullivan? His public persona was as a jovial clown, and he sometimes even played the dunce a bit. In reality, he was a shrewd, intelligent man, and like most of us was not nearly as simple as the eulogies suggest. His critics would point to his stormy time as a selectman, the citation he received from the state ethics commission, the bankrupcy he endured and the way he dished out political payback in the pages of the Lowell Sun as his defining characteristics. His friends, on the other hand, would cite his giving up alcohol, his work on behalf of many charities in the Lowell area, his positive outloook, his deeply held moral and idealogical beliefs, and his army of friends and family as the aspects of his life that defined him.I once had occasion to ask a politician why he appeared on Sully’s show. Was he afraid of how Sully might treat him, if he crossed him? Did he simply want access to Sully’s audience? Did he respect and admire his politcal knowledge? Why? The answer: he just liked being around Sully. Going on the show was interesting. I guess that also captures the way I thought of Paul. He was who he was, warts and all, but he was a heck of a lot of fun to be around. Charming, funny, charismatic and always lively, he was the type of guy that most of us like in our life. He got better with age, and he died too soon. RIP.

  5. Paul Levy

    Michael has it exactly right. A fine and decent person with a great perspective on life and the world.And Dan does, too. You felt like he was a lifelong friend. I will miss him as though he was.

  6. Bill Toscano

    Thanks, Dan.I was going to ask what time it hit the news.

  7. Margie Arons-Barron

    When Michael Goldman persuaded me to put Paul on Five on Five over 11 years ago (and that’s where David Brudnoy discovered him and thought he’d be good for WBZ), I thought he was going to be a narrow ideologue. Boy was I wrong. Paul was reasonable and flexible, funny, compassionate and understanding. He was everyman, a populist in the best sense of the word, and he became a dear friend. He was generous and loyal, and right up to the very end he was concerned about his friends. He tried to reassure us that hospice wasn’t what we thought, that it was just the beginning of a new phase. And I guess it was, a phase full of loss and grieving and missing one of the world’s really good guys. Margie Arons-Barron

  8. Rick

    Eternal rest, grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

  9. Anonymous

    An earlier post had it right when he said things are a bit more complicated with Paul than they seem. The Sun hated Kerry: hated him! Paul got hung up with that. According to Dano Kerry visited with Paul late last week. This likely was a moment. In any case R.I.P. Paul and there was nothing complicated about your personal courage: it was there!

  10. Anonymous

    i went to Merrimack with Paul, and he made every class we shared a must see, must attend event. His wit and humor have been duly noted, but he was truly the quickest wit i ever witnessed. FUNNY!As his star rose, I didn’t think he would have time to keep in touch. We had mutual friends, and inquired about each other through them. Funny guy, great guy, truly one of the greats. He joins his old friend Carl, who died of the same thing a few years back. That is some reunion in the sky.

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