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John Callahan, Quadriplegic Cartoonist, Dead at 59

Cartoonist John Callahan has died at age 60Willamette Week is reporting.

His personal site confirms his death (if not his age), with the photo below captioned “1951-2010.”  Wikipedia also says John Callahan was born 5 February 1951, which would make him 59.  Willamette Week says that Callahan had been in ill health for a year.

Photo of John Callahan the cartoonist

[Update: The Seattle Times reports that “David Milholland, a longtime friend, said Callahan died Saturday after a lengthy hospital stay.”]

John Callahan was paralyzed from the neck down in 1972 during a one-car crash in which a buddy of his was driving drunk. The buddy walked away, but Callahan never walked again. Here’s how he begins the tale in his autobiography, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot:

It was 11:00 A.M., a hot July 22, 1972. I had no idea where I’d been the night before. Past experience told me I had an hour or so of grace before withdrawal symptoms set in. So I was a man of leisure. First thing: light a cigarette. Everybody in the house was gone. I’d slept right through the taped mariachi music Jesus Alvarado turned on at 5:30 every morning to pump himself up for another day of house-painting. Music from a Taco Bell in hell.

Later that day came the crash.

Afterwards Callahan still had some little use of his arms, and in time he taught himself to draw by holding the pen in his right hand and steadying it with his left.  He was often funny but never particularly PC, as one of his more famous cartoons shows:


He began doing his cartoons for Willamette Week in the 1980s under the title “The Lighter Side of Being Paralyzed for Life,” and his 1990 autobiography was titled Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.

In the early 1990s I lived two floors above Callahan in an old brick apartment building in on NW Marshall Street in Portland, Oregon.  He had a roll-in apartment on the ground floor, and made the most of it — he was seen all over the city, breezing from place to place in his electric wheelchair, his legs strapped together in front of him.  In conversation he was wry and sarcastic, but also warm — certainly a guy who would stop and talk.  I remember him telling me, with evident pride, that he’d just come back from San Francisco where Robin Williams had optioned his life story.

That movie never got made, but Callahan rolled on.  Here’s a 2006 Willamette Week catch-up article on Callahan (titled, with typical humor, “Tales From the Crip”), with notes on his budding music career.

Good night and good luck, Mr. Callahan, wherever you may be.

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