'Paper Lion' Plimpton dies at 76

Saturday, September 27, 2003

— George Plimpton, the gentleman editor, literary patron and "participatory journalist" whose fumbling exploits included boxing, trapeze-flying and, most famously, quarterbacking for the Detroit Lions, has died at 76.

Plimpton died Thursday night at his New York apartment, his longtime friend restaurateur Elaine Kaufman said Friday. She had no information on the cause.

"Friends were almost always happy to see him because you knew he was bound to improve your mood," author Norman Mailer said Friday. "What fine manners he had! Few could give a toast or tell a story with equal humor."

Praised as a "central figure in American letters" when inducted in 2002 into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Plimpton was beloved among writers for The Paris Review, the literary quarterly he helped found in 1953 and ran with boyish enthusiasm for 50 years.

The magazine's high reputation rested on two traditions: publishing the work of emerging authors, including Philip Roth and Jack Kerouac, and presenting an unparalleled series of interviews in which Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner and others discussed their craft.

Plimpton also enjoyed a lifetime of making literature out of nonliterary pursuits. He boxed with Archie Moore, pitched to Willie Mays and performed as a trapeze artist for the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus. In his book "Paper Lion," he documented his punishing stint training with the NFL's Detroit Lions in 1963.

He acted in numerous movies, including "Reds" and "Good Will Hunting." He even supplied his voice for an episode of "The Simpsons," playing a professor who runs a spelling bee.