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Saturday, July 11, 2009

R.I.P. Atlanta writer Paul Hemphill

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Atlanta author Paul Hemphill, a celebrated columnist for the Atlanta Journal and the author of a popular biography of Hank Williams, died today at the age of 73, from cancer that had spread from his mouth to his lungs.

According to his AJC obit:

As a columnist and author, Hemphill entranced readers chronicling the blue-collar South. He wrote about stock cars and country music, church burnings and church evangelists. His 15 books, including nonfiction work and novels, reverberated with all the twang and tears of a Hank Williams tune.

In a 2005 profile of Hemphill, former Creative Loafing Senior Editor Doug Monroe opened with a moving anecdote of the talented writer:

Paul Hemphill lifts the chewed-up piece of Nicorette gum out of his mouth and sticks it in a paper napkin. This is a man who used to fire up 20 of those mean little nonfiltered Camels a day and now he chews pellets of doped-up gum. It is an indignity.

Hemphill is at Manuel's Tavern on a Tuesday night -- government-in-exile night -- with Democratic politicos, cops and ex-newspapermen. He's at a big round table with his wife, Susan Percy, and a circle of friends. They're passing around an early copy of his new book, Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams. They're all pulling for it to be a hit.

Hemphill is 69, recovering from a stroke, his face pale and gaunt. But you look at the book cover and then at him. You can see a bit of the late Hank Williams in his new biographer. The resemblance is uncanny: Two boys rising up out of blue-collar Alabama, born 13 years apart, both with big ears, both 6-1, 150 pounds, with a tendency to shrink into the 130s when the booze kicked in. And, boy, did the booze kick in.

Continue reading "Hemphill's return" ...

(Photo by Jim Stawniak)

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