Albom, Mitch 1958–
Albom, Mitch 1958–
(Mitch David Albom)
PERSONAL: Born May 23, 1958, in Passaic, NJ; son of Ira (a corporate executive) and Rhoda (an interior designer) Albom; married Janine Sabino (a singer), 1995. Education: Brandeis University, B.A. (sociology), 1979; Columbia University, M.J., 1981, M.B.A., 1982.
ADDRESSES: Home—Franklin, MI. Office—Detroit Free Press, 321 West Lafayette, Detroit, MI 48226-2721. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Journalist and author. Queens Tribune, Flushing, NY, editor, 1981–82; contributing writer for Sport, Philadelphia Inquirer, and Geo, 1982–83; Fort Lauderdale News and Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, FL, sports columnist, 1983–85; Detroit Free Press, Detroit, MI, sports columnist, 1985–; WLLZ-radio, Farming-ton Hills, MI, sports director, beginning 1985, cohost of Sunday Sports Albom, 1988–99; WDIV-TV, Detroit, broadcaster and commentator, beginning 1987; Monday Sports Albom (originally Sunday Sports Albom; syndicated weekly sports talk show), host, 1999–. The Mitch Albom Show (nationally syndicated sports talk show), host, beginning c. 1995; Sports Reporters, ESPN, panelist. Composed song for television movie Christmas in Connecticut, 1992. Dream Team (charity), founder, 1989; A Time to Help (volunteer organization), founder, 1998. Member of board of directors, Caring Athletes Team for Children's and Henry Ford Hospitals, Forgotten Harvest, and Michigan Hospice.
MEMBER: Baseball Writers of America, Football Writers of America, Tennis Writers of America.
AWARDS, HONORS: Award for best sports news story in the United States, 1985; named number-one Michigan sports columnist, Associated Press (AP) and United Press International (UPI), 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1988; named number-one U.S. sports columnist, AP Sports Editors, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, and 1998; named number-one Michigan sports columnist, National Association of Sportswriters and Broadcasters, 1988 and 1989; National Headliners Award as number-two outstanding writer, 1989; awards for best feature, AP Sports Editors, including 1993; named National Hospice Organization Man of the Year, 1999; numerous other awards.
The Live Albom: The Best of Detroit Free Press Sports Columnist Mitch Albom, Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), 1988.
(With Bo Schembechler) Bo: The Bo Schembechler Story, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1989.
Live Albom II, foreword by Ernie Harwell, Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), 1990.
Live Albom III: Gone to the Dogs, Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), 1992.
Fab Five: Basketball, Trash Talk, the American Dream, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1993.
Live Albom IV, foreword by Dave Barry, Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), 1995.
Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1997.
The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to periodicals, including Gentlemen's Quarterly, Sports Illustrated, New York Times, and Sport; contributor to MSNBC.com.
ADAPTATIONS: Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson was adapted as an Emmy Award-winning television movie, aired by American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. (ABC), 1999, and as a play produced in New York, NY, 2002. Bo: The Bo Schembechler Story and Tuesdays with Morrie were adapted as audio books.
SIDELIGHTS: Mitch Albom, a journalist for the Detroit Free Press, has earned national attention and awards for penning sports columns distinguished by insight, humor, and empathy. Many of his columns have been collected in books that include The Live Albom: The Best of Mitch Albom, Live Albom II, Live Albom III: Gone to the Dogs, and Live Albom IV. Disdaining the questionable ethical conduct, drug problems, and overinflated egos often found in the sports world, Albom highlights instances of athletic courage and determination while providing fact-based commentary on a team's performance.
After stints in New York and Florida, Albom arrived in Detroit, Michigan, in 1985 as a staff member of the Detroit Free Press. Introducing himself to his new audience in his first column, he explained that readers could expect "some opinion, some heart, some frankness. Some laughs. Some out of the ordinary." Albom also made a good first impression with area sports fans by rejecting the negative stereotype—a crime-ridden and dying city—that Detroit held for the nation. "Some people apparently look at a new job in Detroit as something to be endured or tolerated," he told his audience, going on to say: "I, for one, am thrilled to be here. For sports, they don't make towns any better than this one."
One of Albom's most distinguished traits as a columnist has been his sympathy with disappointed fans when local professional teams struggle unsuccessfully for championships. He commiserated with area readers in 1988 when Detroit's basketball team, the Pistons, battled to the National Basketball Association (NBA) finals and pushed Los Angeles to a full seven-game series, only to lose the last game by three points. He reasoned in one column, included in The Live Albom: "They went further than any Pistons team before them. They came onto the stage as brutes and left with an entire nation's respect—for their courage, for their determination, for their talent…. They took on all comers…. They could beat any team in the league. They just couldn't beat them all." A year earlier, when the underdog Red Wings reached the National Hockey League (NHL) semifinals but lost, Albom reported how, on the long flight home, the players dealt with this defeat. Upon learning that a devoted fan had flown to Edmonton to watch the game, Detroit players chipped in to reimburse him for his ticket. They also joined in on a chorus of that fan's favorite cheer. Witnessing this, Albom wrote, "Amazing. Here were these bruising, scarred, often toothless men, on the night of a season-ending loss, singing a high school cheer. Simply because it made an old guy happy. Many people will remember goals and saves and slap shots from this season. I hope I never forget that cheer."
With columns such as these, Albom earned a loyal following and a reputation as a blue-collar sports fan. His success in print carried over to other media, including radio and television. He joined the staff of rock station WLLZ in 1985, initially serving as sports director. In 1988 he and cohost Mike Stone began a weekly program, The Sunday Sports Albom. Guests included both local and national sports figures and the program's format allowed calls by listeners. His stellar guest list was evidence of the comfortable rapport Albom shared with many area athletes and coaches. This accord extended beyond interviews; in 1987 he was even a good luck charm for Detroit's Red Wings. As he explained in a column reprinted in The Live Albom, "I am not sure when my car and the fortunes of the Red Wings actually became intertwined. I do know [coach] Jacques Demers and I have now driven to five playoff games together and Detroit has won all five, and now even Demers, who is not superstitious, is asking me what time we're leaving."
Albom's relationship with former University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler led to a collaboration on Schembechler's autobiography, Bo: The Bo Schembechler Story. Respected as a top college coach for his Big Ten championships and frequent bowl appearances, Schembechler reputedly had a quick temper and churlish personality. In Bo, Albom presents Schembechler as a sincere family man whose surly demeanor was a deliberate act and who inspired love and respect from his football players. Albom credits Schembechler with turning the Michigan football program around. Albom notes a greater accomplishment, however: Schembechler ran a program free from rules violations and saw his athletes graduate. New York Times Book Review contributor Charles Salzberg concluded that while Bo does not offer much new information about Schembechler, the work strengthened Schembechler's position as a role model for college athletes.
While Albom soon reigned as the darling of the Detroit sports scene, he also became involved with his share of controversy. He raised the ire of a Detroit Tigers pitcher with a column, and eleven months later had a bucket of ice water dumped over his head in the Tigers' clubhouse because the pitcher blamed his disintegrating effectiveness on Albom's commentary. Albom also broke the 1988 story of the after-curfew bar visits of several Red Wings players, reporting that, when confronted with the news, the coach "looked as if he was going to cry." Albom added that this black mark on the team's accomplishments was "not the story I wanted to write. Not the one you wanted to read." In these instances, a prediction Albom made in his first column came true: "I try to be honest…. This is not always a pretty job. Sometimes you have to write that the good guys lost, or that somebody's favorite baseball hero in the whole world just checked into the rehab clinic. Still, sports are the only show in town where no matter how many times you go back, you never know the ending. That's special."
Albom expanded his writing beyond the realm of sports with his 1997 publication Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson. The book, which was the top-selling nonfiction title of 1998, sprang from Albom's weekly visits with his former professor, Morrie Schwartz. While a student at Brandeis University, Albom was strongly influenced by the unconventional Schwartz, who urged his students to disdain high-paying careers and follow their hearts instead. Upon graduating, Albom promised to keep in touch with his teacher, but he neither called nor visited Schwartz for the next sixteen years. Watching television one night, he saw Schwartz on the ABC television program Nightline. The professor had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. A hasty trip to Massachusetts to see his old mentor led to a weekly meeting over the next fourteen weeks until Schwarz's died. Albom was struck by the realization that although he was young, healthy, and wildly successful, his old, dying teacher was a much happier, more peaceful person. He began to write a book based on their conversations, in part to help defray Schwartz's medical expenses.
Tuesdays with Morrie is "a slender but emotionally weighty account of Albom's final seminar with Schwartz," in the words of People contributor William Plummer. Albom relates the way in which, without even realizing it, he had slowly abandoned his youthful ideals, becoming cynical, spiritually shallow, and materialistic. Working around the clock to maintain his career left him little time for reflection. Schwartz helped his former student to refocus his life and in chapters that focus on fear, aging, greed, family, forgiveness, and other topics, "the reader hears Morrie advise Mitch to slow down and savor the moment … to give up striving for bigger toys and, above all, to invest himself in love," explained Plummer. "Familiar pronouncements, of course, but what makes them fresh is Morrie's eloquence, his lack of self-pity … and his transcendent humor, even in the face of death."
"One gets whiffs of Jesus, the Buddha, Epicurus, Montaigne and Erik Erikson" from Schwartz's discourses, related Alain de Botton in the New York Times Book Review. Yet Botton objected that the "true and sometimes touching pieces of advice" dispensed by Schwartz "don't add up to a very wise book. Though Albom insists that Schwartz's words have transformed him, it's hard to see why…. Because Albom fails to achieve any real insight into his own … life, it's difficult for the reader to trust in his spiritual transformation." In contrast, a Publishers Weekly reviewer maintained: "Far from being awash in sentiment, the dying man retains a firm grasp on reality," and called Tuesdays with Morrie "an emotionally rich book and a deeply affecting memorial to a wise mentor." In a review for the Columbia Journalism Review, Dante Chinni commented that Tuesdays with Morrie "made Albom something akin to the Kahlil Gibran of disease and spirituality, quoted all over the Internet as a source of inspiration." The book did open doors for the sports journalist, who became a sought-after speaker and was even asked by fellow columnist Dave Barry to join a literary rock band called the Rock Bottom Remainders, which includes Stephen King, Barry, and Amy Tan on its roster.
Albom followed Tuesdays with Morrie with his first novel, 2003's The Five People You Meet in Heaven. As he told Publishers Weekly, the novel is based on stories his Uncle Eddie told him as a child. In the novel, Eddie is a grizzled old man, a war veteran who works as a maintenance man at a fairground. Both he and the people who employ him think little of his worth as a person, and it is not until Eddie dies saving the life of a little girl that the value of his life becomes clear. In heaven, Eddie meets five people who help him gain understanding about life's meaning. A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that, "One by one, these mostly unexpected characters remind him that we all live in a vast web of interconnection with other lives; that all our stories overlap; that acts of sacrifice seemingly small or fruitless do affect others; and that loyalty and love matter to a degree we can never fathom."
Albom continues to write on difficult moral questions—among them euthanasia, medical marijuana, and questions of personal responsibility and law suits—in his newspaper columns and to talk about them on his syndicated radio programs. As Chinni noted in the Columbia Journalism Review, "Albom is not a typical sports-writer or a typical anything, for that matter…. Tuesdays with Morrie … put him in a league of his own." Albom described his role to Chinni: "Communicator…. That's all…. I'm talking about a lot of things that I'm writing about and I'm writing about a lot of things that I think about. For me it's sort of one job with a lot of tentacles."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Albom, Mitch, The Live Albom, Detroit Free Press, 1988, pp. 12, 208, 218.
Albom, Mitch, Live Albom II, Detroit Free Press, 1990, pp. 33, 35, 44.
Back Stage, November 29, 2002, p. 32; January 17, 2003, p. 9.
Book, September, 2000, p. 10.
Books, December, 1998, p. 22.
Bookwatch, February, 1998, p. 11.
Christian Science Monitor, April 30, 1998, Robin Whitten, review of audio version of Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson, p. B4.
Columbia Journalism Review, September, 2001, Dante Chinni, review of Tuesdays with Morrie, p. 18.
Detroit Free Press, March 30, 1993, p. C1; August 27, 2003.
Hollywood Reporter, November 23, 2002, p. 7.
Image, winter, 1998, p. 395.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 1997, p. 993.
Kliatt, May, 1998, p. 56.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, June 9, 1999, p. K3422; October 16, 2001, p. K0231; November 13, 2002, p. K5785; August 27, 2003, p. K7744.
Lancet, October 17, 1998, Faith McLellan, "A Teacher to the Last," p. 1318.
Los Angeles Business Journal, April 24, 2000, p. 65; December 11, 2000, p. 53; August 5, 2002, p. 39; September 30, 2002, p. 47.
Modern Healthcare, February 10, 2003, p. 34.
Multichannel News, January 29, 2001, p. 20.
New York, December 2, 2002, p. 78.
New York Times Book Review, November 19, 1989, Charles Salzberg, review of Bo: The Bo Schembechler Story, p. 44; November 23, 1997, Alain de Botton, review of Tuesdays with Morrie, p. 20.
People, January 12, 1998, William Plummer, "Memento Morrie: Morrie Schwartz, While Dying, Teaches Writer Mitch Albom the Secrets of Living," p. 141.
Publishers Weekly, October 5, 1990, review of audio version of Bo, p. 73; June 30, 1997, review of Tuesdays with Morrie, p. 60; March 2, 1998, review of audio version of Tuesdays with Morrie, p. 30; October 9, 2000, Daisy Maryles and Dick Donahue, "Three Years+ with Morrie," p. 22; July 28, 2003, review of The Five People You Meet in Heaven, p. 18; August 18, 2003, Tracy Cochran, "Everyone Matters" (interview).
Quest, March-April, 1998, p. 42.
Sports Illustrated, May 15, 1995, "Record Albom," p. 22; December 20, 1999, "Morrie Glory: His Bestseller Now a Hit TV Movie, Sportswriter Mitch Albom Continues His Crossover Act," p. 28; March 5, 2001, p. 16.
Tikkun, March, 2001, p. 75.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), December 12, 1993, p. 3.
TV Guide, December 4, 1999, "These Days with Morrie," p. 39.
Wall Street Journal, March 14, 1988, Bradley A. Stertz, "It's Probably Not Too Smart for Us to Publicize This Kind of Revenge," p. 29.
Writer's Digest, September, 2001, p. 38.
Writing!, April-May, 2003, p. 11.
Albom Online, http://www.albom.com/ (March 19, 2004).