Jim Klobuchar Dies at 93, Minnesota Newspaperman and Amy’s Father

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Jim Klobuchar was a renowned sportswriter and general interest columnist in Minnesota for decades.

Straight out of central casting, he was celebrated for his derring-do: He once held a piece of chalk between his lips while a sharpshooter took aim at it. He was a finalist for NASA’s initiative to send a journalist into space, until the Challenger explosion in 1986 ended the program. He scaled the Matterhorn eight times and Kilimanjaro five.

And he could make readers weep, as when he wrote about a 5-year-old girl with a brain tumor who loved to ride the rails: “She was cradled in her mother’s lap on the observation car of the Milwaukee Road’s Hiawatha, a tidy young lady. A dying little girl, taking her last train ride.”

But he did not come to national attention until 2018, when his daughter, Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, mentioned him during the contentious televised hearings on Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

During her questioning of the nominee, Ms. Klobuchar noted that her father, then 90, was a recovering alcoholic who still attended meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. She asked Judge Kavanaugh whether he had ever drunk so much that he could not recollect events. He turned the question back on her, a breach of decorum for which he later apologized. She accepted the apology, adding, “When you have a parent that’s an alcoholic, you’re pretty careful about drinking.”

By then her father had been sober for more than 25 years. When she ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, Senator Klobuchar spoke often of his successful treatment and proposed spending billions of dollars to treat substance abuse.

Mr. Klobuchar died on Wednesday at a care facility in Burnsville, a suburb of the Twin Cities. He was 93. Senator Klobuchar, who announced his death on Twitter, did not specify a cause but said he had had Alzheimer’s disease. He survived a bout with Covid-19 last year.

Mr. Klobuchar was long popular in Minnesota, even a folk hero. In addition to his newspaper columns — 8,400 of them by the time he retired from The Minneapolis Star Tribune in 1995 — he wrote 23 books, held a football clinic for women, hosted talk shows and for almost four decades led annual “Jaunt with Jim” bicycling trips around the state, stopping at pay phones along the road to call in and dictate his column. After he and his first wife, Rose (Heuberger) Klobuchar, divorced in 1976, he and Amy began taking long-distance biking trips to bond with each other.

As a young journalist for The Associated Press, he experienced an especially heady moment the day after the 1960 presidential election, when John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon were still neck and neck, with three states yet to report results. Mr. Klobuchar wrote the nationwide bulletin announcing that Mr. Kennedy had won Minnesota, giving him enough electoral votes to clinch the presidency. The scoop appeared in papers across the country.

James John Klobuchar was born on April 9, 1928, in Ely, a small city on the Iron Range of northern Minnesota, where he grew up. His father, Michael Klobuchar, worked in the iron ore mines. His mother, Mary (Pucel) Klobuchar, was a homemaker.

From an early age, Jim read The Duluth Herald, and his mother encouraged him to pursue a career in journalism, Senator Klobuchar wrote in her 2015 memoir, “The Senator Next Door.”

He graduated from Ely Junior College (now Vermilion Community College) in 1948, then enrolled at the University of Minnesota, graduating with a degree in journalism in 1950.

He landed a job as wire editor at The Bismarck Daily Tribune. But six months later he was drafted into the Army and assigned to a new psychological warfare unit in Stuttgart, Germany, where he wrote anti-communist material.

He returned briefly to the Bismarck paper, then was recruited by The Associated Press in Minneapolis, where he scored his election scoop. He joined The Minneapolis Tribune in 1961 as a sports reporter, focusing on the Minnesota Vikings.

He left The Tribune in 1965 for the competing St. Paul Pioneer Press, but it wasn’t long before The Minneapolis Star lured him away by giving him a column to write about whatever he wanted.

This was the heyday of print journalism, when newspapers sent their star writers all over the world. During the height of the Cold War, Mr. Klobuchar reported from Moscow. He covered the murder and funeral of Aldo Moro, Italy’s former prime minister, in 1978. He challenged the pool hustler Minnesota Fats to a game. He wrote about an air service that employed topless flight attendants. He played a reporter in the 1974 movie “The Wrestler,” with Ed Asner.

But it was not all smooth sailing. He was suspended twice, once for writing a speech for a politician, and once for making up a quote in a story that he thought was an obvious satire.

He also took his drinking too far, his daughter said in her book. For a time, heavy drinking was part of his colorful public persona. When he was charged with a couple of alcohol-related driving offenses in the mid-1970s, nothing much happened.

But the public’s attitude toward drinking and driving underwent a sea change, and when he was arrested in 1993 for driving under the influence, he lost his license and was threatened with jail. He wrote a front-page apology to his readers. And in an accompanying note, the paper’s editor, Tim McGuire, said that Mr. Klobuchar had “endangered lives” and that the paper was insisting that he seek treatment.

He complied. He entered an inpatient rehabilitation center, attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and found God. Ms. Klobuchar wrote that his readers forgave him.

“It was his very flaws that made my dad so appealing to them,” she said. “His rough-and-tumble life growing up and his personal struggles had a huge influence on his writing. That’s why he was at his best when he wrote about what he called ‘the heroes among us’ — ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”

In addition to Senator Klobuchar, he is survived by another daughter, Meagan; his wife, Susan Wilkes; his brother, Dick; and a granddaughter.

When he decided to retire from The Star Tribune in 1995, Mr. Klobuchar told his office mates that he wanted no fuss, just to leave quietly. After he had packed up his things and was headed for the door, an editor got on the public-address system and announced: “This is Jim Klobuchar’s last day. That’s 43 years of journalism going out the door.”

Everyone stood and applauded.