Allan Johnson, whose career started as a copy clerk and ended as one of only a handful of blacks writing criticism for a major newspaper, has died at age 46.
Johnson died late Friday in University of Chicago Hospitals of complications from a brain hemorrhage, a family spokesman said. He collapsed after attending an event with his wife and had been hospitalized for nearly three weeks.
“He was witty in the most gloriously droll way. And no matter how chaotic the newsroom, he was a rock-solid presence,” said Chicago Tribune editor Ann Marie Lipinski.
Johnson began working at the Tribune in 1979 as a copy clerk. His byline first appeared in the Tribune’s financial section in 1987. The next year, he began the “Just for Laughs” column in the Friday section, focusing on the then-booming local comedy scene.
In the following years he would review and interview some of the nation’s leading comics, later adding television reviews and features to his duties.
“Al was just good people. He was honest, he was fair and he knew what was funny,” said Bernie Mac, whose career Johnson charted from Chicago comedy clubs to television and movies.
Johnson leaves behind a baby girl and an adult son from a previous marriage.
“My life has been taken away,” said television reporter Evelyn Holmes, who married Johnson in 1997. “I loved his heart, his laugh, his soul. For all the success we might have had, the high visibility, none of that mattered as much as just being together as ourselves.”