The 52-year-old MacNelly died early Thursday at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore after battling lymphoma since late last year.
"Jeff was simply the most brilliant political cartoonist of the time," said Tribune editor Howard A. Tyner. "No one had an eye and a sense of humor like his. And he was as funny personally as he was in print."
MacNelly, who lived in Rappahannock County, Va., won the Pulitzer Prize for his editorial cartoons in 1972, 1978 and 1985. He won the first one when he was only 24 years old after working at the Richmond News Leader in Virginia for only 16 months. After more than 10 years at the News Leader, he joined the Tribune in 1982.
But editorial cartoons weren't his only outlet. In 1977, MacNelly began the daily comic strip Shoe, about a newspaper's cranky editor and its two-bit hacks, all of whom just happen to be birds. The cigar-chomping boss of the Treetops Tattler was P. Martin Shoemaker, inspired by MacNelly's former boss Jim Shumaker, now a University of North Carolina professor. He also illustrated humorist Dave Barry's syndicated column.
The New York native took his first cartooning job in 1969 when he dropped out of the University of North Carolina to take a $120-per-week position with a weekly paper in Chapel Hill, N.C.
MacNelly announced in January that he would cut down his output during the treatment of his illness, but he continued to produce Shoe and other cartoons until his death.
He is survived by his wife, Susan, and two sons, 13-year-old Danny and 25-year-old Matt. Another son, Jeffrey Jr., died in 1996 at age 24 from injuries in a rock-climbing accident in Colorado. The younger Jeff MacNelly was editorial cartoonist for the Aspen Times.