RIP Harvey Pekar

RIP Harvey Pekar

Comic book writer Harvey Pekar, whose autobiographical comic series American Splendor was made into a 2003 Oscar nominated film starring Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis, has been found dead in his Ohio home. He was 70.

Cleveland Heights, OH police Capt. Michael Cannon said officers were called to Pekar’s home by his wife Joyce Brabner about 1 A.M. Monday. Cannon said Pekar had been suffering from prostate cancer, asthma, high blood pressure and depression. Coroner’s spokesman Powell Caesar said an autopsy will be performed to determine final cause of death, although foul play was not suspected.

Pekar’s American Splendor comics, which he began publishing in 1976, chronicle his observations on work, love, money and life’s daily grind. The comic was done with stories from dozens of artists over the years in a wide variety of styles and was first illustrated by renonwed underground artist R. Crumb.

However, with each successive style, the voice remained the same: that of a witty, wry, observant man who’s study of human nature and the minutia of life through his own shortcomings never ceased to entertain and enlighten.

In addition to his writing, he was known for his appearances on Late Night With David Letterman. Check out his last appearance on the show after the break.

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  • Mplonsey
    July 14, 2010 at 3:47 am

    Hi–Harvey performed in and collaborated with his wife Joyce Brabner, Dan Plonsey, students at Oberlin College and myself on the libretto for the “jazz opera” LEAVE ME ALONE. Music and concept by Dan Plonsey, commissioned by Real Time Opera. Its world premiere took place on Jan. 31 2009, for one night only with free admission; it was the first opera to be streamed live over the net. A sound recording and a DVD exist, but were not intended to be marketed to the public according to Real Time Opera, but we're thinking of ignoring that … Josh Smith, saxophonist and dear friend of Harvey was instrumental in helping the project take shape. We all loved Harvey so much. I saw him here in Berkeley where he appeared in an iinformal performance with Dandelion Dancetheater and Dan Plonsey and myself.

  • Nat_Almirall
    July 12, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    Shoot, Joe: Been working on this since 9:00:Here's what I had to offer up:

    Harvey Pekar, author of American Splendor is dead.

    I always imagined Pekar as one of those Wonders of the World, an immovable force, railing against the idiocies of the world; he’d would always be there, ready and willing to look the darkness of life up its claws and not be afraid of what he saw. But he’d always be there, you know? Because it’d give him material. I imagine that’s what kept him going, what staved off his depression: If he could present it, and give his thoughts, and still make it a realistic and true, that’d be enough to get by.

    I’m no artist, I didn’t know Pekar, I came to Pekar through the film American Splendor, which I imagine fans of his comic would look down on. After I saw the film, which is in my discriminating top five, I bought the anthology of his work, which “true” fans would also look down on, and devoured it. Each “story” was life. Some had no continuity—no connection with the last. They was just there, on the paper. Some of his thoughts I agreed with, some not at all, but he seemed honest—there wasn’t a story, even the ones that didn’t feature him (so how could he have been there?), had a spontaneity of truth.

    And that was Harvey. He had an eye for truth, the most common theme that runs throughout his chronicles. If he overheard a conversation he didn’t agree with, he’d record it, because it was spoken with conviction. Even if the speakers were wrong but spoke believing that they were right, he knew that there was truth in what they said—lies being the a thing we try to convince ourselves are true, which is a deeper form of truth we leave unsaid. He recorded it. And it never felt untrue.

    Born in 1939, in Cleveland, Ohio, Harvey Lawrence Pekar worked as a file clerk for a Cleveland hospital for many years. Reports of his death say he expired at 1:00 a.m. this morning, after going to bed at 4:30 p.m. yesterday, EST. He had prostate cancer, and high blood pressure and depression, but they say he left in high spirits, so they say. They say he was 70.

    I thought the cancer was in remission, and depression is seldom fatal unless it takes its own life, but the first time I ever heard of Harvey was on a drive to work when NPR did a piece on him, they say he was writing an opera. And then I heard my godfather mention him offhand. My godfather also lives in Cleveland, and he recommended the movie to me. I saw it and loved it and thanked him for the recommendation.

    He gave credit to his friends—Toby Radloff stands out as a joke, but he’ much more perceptive than people imagine.

    In any event, I’ve been preparing this to do a post on Harvey, but I see someone bet me to it, but hey, Harvey: Well done.

    I imagine that you’ll always be there, peering over my shoulder, arranging my thoughts, checking out the structure (is there any?), and making sure I speak the truth. I imagine…