'Paper Lion' Author Plimpton Dies
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Plimpton died Thursday night at his Manhattan apartment, his longtime friend, restaurateur Elaine Kaufman, said Friday.
"I saw him the other day. He was full of energy," said Kaufman, who said she had known Plimpton for 40 years. "He was talking about a trip he took with his family to the tip of South America."
Praised as a "central figure in American letters" when inducted in 2002 to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Plimpton also enjoyed a lifetime of making literature out of nonliterary pursuits.
For "Paper Lion," the slightly built and silver-tongued Plimpton played for a season with the Detroit Lions.
He also boxed with Archie Moore, pitched to Willie Mays and performed as a trapeze artist for the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus. He acted in numerous films, including "Reds" and "Good Will Hunting." He even appeared in an episode of "The Simpsons," playing a professor who runs a spelling bee.
But writers appreciated Plimpton for The Paris Review, the quarterly he helped found nearly in 1953 and ran for decades with eager passion. The magazine's high reputation rested on two traditions: publishing the work of emerging authors, including Roth and Kerouac, and an unparalleled series of interviews in which Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner and others discussed their craft.
The Paris Review remained more respected than read. The subscription base was rarely higher than a few thousand and the bank account seemed to descend at will. At one point in 2001, Plimpton reported, funds dropped to $1.16. Donations from various wealthy friends kept it going.
Plimpton proved all too effective at praising others at the expense of himself. Until 2002, when he turned 75, his highest honor was being named New York City fireworks commissioner, a position that didn't officially exist. But within a month of the academy induction, the French made him a Chevalier, the Legion of Honor's highest rank. The Guild, an arts organization based on Long Island, gave him a lifetime achievement award.
In 2003, Plimpton decided to write his memoirs, signing a $750,000 deal with Little, Brown and Co.
Plimpton covered the October 30,1974 "Rumble in the Jungle" fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire. And he was one of the men who tackled Sirhan Sirhan when he shot Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel on June 4, 1968.
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