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Remembering John Callahan: Our coverage of his life and death ten years later

By TOM D'ANTONI // John Callahan died on July 24, 2010. An acerbic, hilarious cartoonist and a Portland icon and a musician, too. Here's how we covered his death the next day and the days that followed. With audio tributes by Gus VanSant and Bill Plympton and John's music video.


John Callahan died Saturday morning at Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital.

His Wiki.

He had been hospitalized since Thursday and had been in declining health for several years. He was 59 years old and had been living in a basement apartment on NW Lovejoy St. for the past several years.

According to Joy Campbell, a friend of twenty years and someone in frequent contact with Callahan, before he went to the hospital on Thursday, he knew he was at the end of his life.

He said farewell to Robert his caregiver before he left for Good Sam.

On Saturday morning the hospital wanted to transfer him to Hopewell House, a hospice. According to Campbell, he had always been adamant about not wanting to die in hospice. When the ambulance arrived at Hopewell, he was having so much trouble breathing that he was returned to Good Sam where he died shortly after his arrival.

Having spent some creative time with him and being his downstairs neighbor, I always thought he had a sick mind and a pure heart. The perfect combination.

Most Portlanders knew him as the Willamette Week Cartoonist and author of many sardonic cartoon books. He also released an album of his songs, Purple Winos In the Rain, produced by Terry Robb.

Before it came out, Greg Bond and I did a TV story on John. Here's one of his tunes, "Portland Girl." He had a love-hate relationship with Portland, and indeed the world. But the love always showed through.

Terry Robb said this afternoon that he had just spoken with John on Thursday. Apparently Kinky Friedman had wanted him to open at his show at the Roseland Theater on Thursday, July 28. He was a big fan of John's.

Mark Zusman of Willamette week wrote in their first report, "Our tears shed as we write this." 

Bassist/singer/composer Lisa Mann wrote:

I only met him a few times. The first time was just after a Music Millennium show, at the old westside location. He asked what time we played, so I told him we had just finished and he said he was very sorry he'd missed it. He seemed genuinely disappointed. He gave me his CD and started up a conversation about music and everything else under the sun, like we were old friends. He didn't know me from Adam. I remember being really struck by that, especially given my impression of him through his crass cartoons. Really interesting guy, sorry to hear he's passed.

Leave your written farewell on the white paper on the wall next to his apartment at 2449 NW Lovejoy. Or leave flowers or other remembrances.



 John Callahan' funeral held today in NW Portland

July 30, 2010

Two white robed acolytes led a procession up the aisle at St. Mary's Cathedral in NW Portland. Behind members of John Callahan's family carried a dark purple marble box containing the ashes of the man responsible for making people world-wide look at things in a different light, and laugh out loud at the same time.

Around 1pm two white-robed acolytes led a procession up the aisle at St. Mary's Cathedral in NW Portland. Behind members of John Callahan's family carried a dark purple marble box containing the ashes of the man responsible for making people world-wide look at things in a different light, and laugh out loud at the same time.

The folks who turned out for the funeral were just what you might expect. Lots of his family members and a collection of the kind of people who had a similar outlook on the world as Callahan.

We can only wonder what cartoon John would have made out of the procession carrying his ashes. A shame he's not here to give us that insight.

His brother Rich gave the eulogy. We learned that Callahan wanted a Catholic funeral, which surprised some. He told stories of John's early artistic talent. At three, his mom left him unattended at the kitchen table with paper and pencil. When she returned he had drawn a perfect Donald Duck. Later, John entertained his high school friends with wicked cartoons of nuns and themselves.

Rich pulled no punches about his brother's alcoholism and stopped for tears when he recounted the 1972 auto accident which left John a quad. He cheered John's entrance into Alcoholics Anonymous in 1978 and was obviously proud that John had not had a drink since then.

Near the end of the eulogy, Rich said, "All who knew him, loved him, and those who hated him, didn't know him.

The rest of the funeral was religious ceremony.

In his closing remarks, Fr. George Wolf got the biggest laugh when he invited the congregants to the courtyard next to the sanctuary for refreshments. He said that John loved to sit out there in peace and quiet and think about the Catholic Church, "which provided him with so much material."

Inside the funeral program was this quote from John's "The King of Things and the Cranberry Clown.

Then he closed his eyes,

and he tipped his chair,

and he held his breath

and he fell somewhere

And he fell so far

and he fell so high

that all he could say

was, "Goodbye, Goodbye!"



Post content: "An Evening with John Callahan (well, sort of)" will be held at the Mission Theater on Tuesday, August 10 at 7:30pm. The free event has been put together by folks who knew and worked with him, including members of his family.

The cartoonist, musician and Portland icon died Saturday, July 24.

The music portion of the show has been put together by Terry Robb, who produced his album Purple Winos In the Rain. Also performing will be Doug Smith and Judy Koch-Smith, Rachel Taylor Brown, Albert Reda, Miriam and others.

Simone de Vries' documentary, “Touch Me Someplace I Can Feel,” will be screened along with Kelly Baker's film "I Think I Was an Alcoholic," a clip of John singing in the empty Music Millennium store on NW 23rd from Ivy Lin's documentary and Greg Bond and Tom D'Antoni's music video of John's song "Portland Girl" among others.

Also screened will be Kinky Friedman's video tribute to Callahan, shot during his recent concert in Portland. Friedman had hoped Callahan would open for him. Gus Van Sant and Bill Plympton sent along video remembrances.

Amy Walker, another quadriplegic artist who drew inspiration from John, who counseled her and visited her in her rehab was videotaped and her appreciation will be screened.

Pink Martini's Thomas Lauderdale will talk about the Callahan he knew.

There will be scheduled spoken remembrances and opportunities for the general public to also speak.




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