Bill Conlin, a Daily News sports columnist whose writing sparkled with incision and erudition, but whose career ended in the disgrace of child-molestation accusations, died yesterday in Largo, Fla. He was 79.
Conlin resigned from the Daily News on Dec. 20, 2011, shortly before the publication of stories in the Inquirer about accusations that he molested seven children in the 1960s and '70s.
The revelations hit colleagues and acquaintances with a shock wave that has yet to subside.
Daily News columnist Rich Hofmann expressed the reaction of many colleagues at the time of the accusations when he wrote:
"It has been more than a week since the first Inquirer report, and I no longer feel like throwing up. But the allegations of child sexual abuse against Bill Conlin remain horrible and vivid, and the emotions still cascade at times. There is no peace."
After Conlin's death, Daily News managing editor Pat McLoone commented: "Bill's career ended in disgrace. Speaking to his work, though, his writing was often brilliant. At a time before the Internet and sports-only TV channels, Bill Conlin's coverage in the Daily News was the primary source of information and analysis for a generation of Phillies fans."
Daily News executive sports editor Chuck Bausman said: "Bill was one of the reasons I got into this business. His writing was brilliant. He made stories come alive with his prose and insight. However, what was revealed about his personal life was a tragedy for Bill and his family and a painful reminder for the victims."
Six women and one man told the Inquirer that Conlin had abused them in Margate and Washington Township, Gloucester County. Because the assaults happened decades ago, no criminal charges could be filed.
Conlin died in the Largo Medical Center, to which he had been admitted with multiple illnesses, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and a colon infection.
Conlin, who joined the Daily News in 1965 after five years at the Bulletin, was a winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award in 2011, presented at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., where the bearded Conlin regaled the audience with sports stories from his past.
He was also a member of the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame, and was a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
During his four decades as a Daily News sportswriter, Conlin covered many of the most important sporting events in the region, nation and the world.
That included three Winter Olympics in France, Norway and Japan, with Daily News writer Les Bowen in tow.
"Years ago," Les wrote after the allegations, "if you were on the road with Bill, you were having an adventure, whether you wanted one or not.
"Lately, I've been asked a lot about what Bill was like," Bowen wrote. "Bill lived and wrote in his own peculiar, florid world. It was a world I enjoyed visiting from time to time, but I don't know anybody who wanted to live there, or even to tarry very long after dinner."
Conlin was known throughout the country by those who toil daily in the world of sportswriting. He appeared in more than 300 editions of ESPN's The Sports Reporters, on which American newspaper writers debated the latest sports news.
Mitch Albom, sports columnist for the Detroit Free Press, said about Conlin: "For years, sitting next to him on The Sports Reporters, all I got from Bill Conlin was the spit of his opinions in my ear.
"His writing is far less messy. It's also brash, charming, intelligent, historical and, at times, almost elegant."
That Conlin was opinionated, egotistical and controversial is beyond dispute. Sometimes he started a column with: "When I'm king of the world," and would then list the changes he would inflict on those who practice the sporting trade.
William T. Conlin was born in Philadelphia and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. He was a champion swimmer and won an athletic scholarship to Peekskill Military Academy. He graduated in 1961 from Temple University, where he was editor of the Temple News, the undergraduate publication.
He was inducted into the Ocean Rowing Hall of Fame in 1983.
Conlin was a member of the Margate, N.J., Beach Patrol in the '50s, where he won swimming and boating competitions.
It was there that he met his future wife, Irma Steelman. They were married on Oct. 19, 1960. She died Sept. 13, 2009, at age 72.
He is survived by a daughter, Kimberly McCall; two sons, Pete and Willian Conlin III; and two grandchildren.