Anyone around 346 West 46th Street in New York after 7pm on October 1 with nothing worse to do should drop into the Bourbon Street Bar & Grille. There Rupert Murdoch and his hacks from the New York Post will farewell Steve Dunleavy, hailed by the website Gawker as the problem-drinking right wing Post columnist who’s been called “Murdoch’s fiercest, most loyal and longest-running attack dog”…

His brawling and carousing career apparently wound down months ago because of health problems. Gawker took a fond(ish) look back at the life of “The Prince of Darkness,” an angry tabloid legend.

Dunleavy was born in Sydney, in 1938 and started work as a 16-year-old copy boy on the Sun in Sydney.

“Five dollars a week. Then I moved to the Sydney Daily Mirror and earned my cadetship. My dad was a famous press photographer on the Sun and we became very competitive.” (He once deflated the old man’s tyres to beat him on a story).

He moved to New York as a stringer in the mid-1960s, and made his way to the Post after Murdoch bought it in the late 1970s. In 1977, he found time to publish a book called Elvis — What happened? a behind-the-scenes look at the life of The King that came out just weeks before Elvis died. In the 80s Dunleavy was a top reporter on America’s version of A Current Affair, the fittingly called the Post of television.

He was famous for being a rabid right-winger — the type of man who figured that if you got your head cracked by the cops, you probably deserved it — and for being a pisspot. Some Dunleavy stories:

  • There was the night a blizzard buried Manhattan and Dunleavy, “reclining” with a young woman in a snowdrift outside Elaine’s, and had his foot run over by a snowplough. Said Pete Hamill of the Daily News, “I hope it was his writing foot.”
  • Celebrated for first-punch fights at Costello’s now defunct bar and for sleeping overnight in a straight-backed wooden chair in the Post’s newsroom when the paper was on South Street, in recent years Dunleavy has been favouring a booth at Langan’s, a pub near the Post’s midtown office, for his recuperative overnight naps.
  • Dunleavy hated Bill Clinton, and during his presidency loudly advocated for the release of Wayne DuMond, an Arkansas man in prison for raping Clinton’s third cousin in 1984. DuMond was almost certainly guilty. But Dunleavy called the young woman, a minor at the time of the assault, on the record, the “so-called victim”, and added: “That rape never happened”.

Stalker for the website Gawker reported:

I was at Langan’s on 47th at 5pm on Wednesday, and Mr. Dunleavy was there. We only noticed him after he fell into some chairs and onto the ground. The hostess rushed over and immediately started saying loudly that the chairs were in his way (despite the fact that he was obviously sauced). He got up and then propped himself by the doorway, until a bartender came over with a glass of water for him. Dunleavy took it and left the bar.

Seventy-year-old Dunleavy has been missing from the Post pages for months. Back in December he offered to write a column on the Catholic Church’s ban on Danny Boy at funerals. Then he popped up, telling a pal at Forbes on-line: “It’s m’ legs, mate. Sitting or lying down, no problem. It’s the walking. You remember how I sprinted from bar to bar? Today I lurch from bar to bar… I don’t use a cane but have an old shillelagh.”

Dunleavy denies having been a “tea boy” on the South China Morning Post. “I was a reporter by then.” UPI hired him in London and in 1966 sent him to New York where he worked the 6am to 2pm stint in the old Daily News Building on East 42nd Street. “UPI was a great organisation then, but cheap. You didn’t ask for a $10 raise because your boss probably didn’t make that much.”

Murdoch had not yet invaded America but had a news bureau upstairs in the same building. Dunleavy bumped into the late Post Page Six gossip columnist, former Sydney golf writer, Neal Travis, who got him a second job doing an afternoon shift. He went full time in November 1967 for Murdoch’s bureau. This was an exciting time: Charles Manson, the 1968 riots, Vietnam.

When Murdoch launched his tabloid weekly, the National Star, in 1974 he introduced Dunleavy to the editor, telling him: “He’ll be your chief reporter but don’t give him a title or any authority. And don’t drink in the same bars he does.”

The Star newsroom on Third Avenue was a rough operation, mostly Aussies and Fleet Street hacks. One errand boy hung about, making long-distance personal calls, rifling desk drawers and reading people’s mail. When Dunleavy caught him, he chased the kid around the room, cursing and throwing ashtrays at him. The kid moved on and is today a suave New York PR man.

When Murdoch bought the Post, along came Dunleavy.

Although the harrowing “Son of Sam” serial killings was Breslin’s story, Dunleavy made a mark. “Son of Sam” was David Berkowiz who, over a year from July 1996, shot 13 people in New York and stabbed one, ending with six dead and eight wounded.

During questioning, Berkowitz said that the “Sam” mentioned in the first letter of many macabre letters was Sam Carr, his former neighbour. Berkowitz claimed that Carr’s Labrador retriever, Harvey, was possessed by an ancient demon, and that it issued irresistible commands that Berkowitz must kill people. Berkowitz said he once tried to kill the dog, but was unsuccessful due to supernatural interference.

Dunleavy scored a nice “second day” scoop by wangling a 3am at home interview with Sam Carr and his dog, shouting “Police reporters, police reporters,” when the startled Carr pulled a cocked pistol.

As Teddy Kennedy was concocting alibis for the drowning at Chappaquiddick, Dunleavy and another Aussie Ray Kerrison spent a week at the Cape. To prove or disprove something, Dunleavy stripped to swim the swift-flowing channel as Kennedy allegedly had. “I was an Australian and a swimmer,” he said.

When Elvis Presley’s disaffected bodyguards offered to tell (or sell) their story, Dunleavy was dispatched to Dixie where he and the bodyguards, sequestered and drinking in a rural motel, cobbled together a series of stories for the Post — and for a paperback original, destiny struck! On the book’s official publication date, Presley died. Elvis — What Happened went straight to No. 1 on The New York Times list and stayed there 16 weeks.

All this notoriety led to his being put on TV. “The Boss sent me to Channel 5 News and I didn’t know a damned thing about television, but I learned.” That led to the syndicated Murdoch show, A Current Affair and a spin-off called The Reporters.

In the opening pages of Tabloid Baby, television producer Burt Kearns’ memoir about the rise and fall of tabloid television, he writes of Dunleavy, “the ageless legend with his silver pompadour, eagle beak profile and rakish charisma, was the paragon of everything that made journalism romantic and dangerous. He was friend to cops and criminals, bums and kings. He knew the words to any show tune you could toss at him.” And then Kearns gets to the point: “Dunleavy, it was said, would f-ck anyone, do anything — f-ck anything — for a story.”

This is the sort of stuff he hacked out:

His life blood was ebbing away as four bullets, fired by evil, blasted into his body.

As a cop staring death stark in the face, Anthony Mosomillo had one last job.

He blasted away with four shots at a cockroach called José Serrano, and hell greeted another lowlife into Satan’s lap.

Ten years ago, Anthony Mosomillo and partner Miriam Torres went to Serrano’s apartment to arrest the career criminal, who had skipped out on two bench warrants.

When they found Serrano, the 210-pound weight lifter wrestled Miriam’s service pistol away from her and shot Anthony four times, mortally wounding him.

As Serrano turned the gun on Miriam, Anthony blasted back, saving Miriam, concluding his mission and his life.

Yesterday a memorial mass was celebrated for Anthony at St. Michael’s Church in Sunset Park, Brooklyn — a requiem for a heavyweight crowded by officers from the 67th Precinct.

They don’t write like that any more. Well, not since about 1890.

Peter Fray

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