Former columnist Corkery dies at 61

Author and columnist Paul Jerome Corkery — best known to locals as P.J. — died Saturday at Stanford Medical Center after a battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He was 61.

Born outside Boston on Nov. 5, 1946, Corkery followed San Francisco goings-on in an Examiner column starting in 2001, effervescently commenting on the power brokers, socialites, sports icons and ordinary individuals in The City.

Most recently, he collaborated with former Mayor Willie Brown Jr. on “Basic Brown: My Life and Our Times,” published in February.
Corkery and Brown became friends in the early 1990s and continued to have Saturday breakfast together at the St. Regis Hotel, Brown told The Examiner on Tuesday.

“He was fascinated by the stories I’d tell him and he thought it’d be a far more interesting book than those dreary, ‘He-was-born-and-then-he-did-this’ biographies,” Brown said.

Many San Franciscans remember Corkery as a consummate storyteller in his own right.

“P.J.’s columns were infused with the color and texture of San Francisco,” said Mayor Gavin Newsom. “He knew the heart and soul of this city. He knew what made it great and he believed in the nobility of good reporting.”

After graduating from Harvard and Cambridge universities, Corkery edited Boston magazine, the Boston Phoenix and the Los Angeles Examiner. While in L.A., he wrote “Carson,” an unauthorized biography of iconic late-night TV host Johnny Carson, said Martha Smilgis, his partner of 35 years.

Corkery came to San Francisco for diabetes treatment but stayed for the flavors of The City, according to Smilgis, who called him “the most courageous man I ever knew.”

“He was never afraid to set the record straight,” she said. “But if something was going to hurt the public good, he called it.”
John Wilcox, current president and publisher of The Examiner, said Corkery will be missed.

“P.J. was the consummate writer.  His columns for The Examiner were must-reads, and his observations on San Francisco life and characters were always entertaining,” Wilcox said.

Public memorial services will be held within the next two months, but a date has not been set.

Corkery is survived by brothers James, Joe and Thomas Corkery; sister Maureen Corkery Abate; and 11 nieces and nephews.

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