On December 18th, 2013 Chicago radio star Larry Lujack passed away. While it was a personal and professional thrill to work as Larry’s producer in the mid-80’s at WLS, I was also his friend up to the day he died. We used to check in with each other three or four times a year and I once stayed with Lar and his wife Jude for several days at their home in Santa Fe.
This is an excerpt from my book “Raised on the Radio” which will be released in 2018.
My last phone conversation with Larry Lujack happened in late September of 2013. Longtime WLS star Don Wade had just passed away from brain cancer and I was checking in to make sure Larry was “still with us.” We reflected on Wade’s passing and found time to joke about other matters. Larry couldn’t believe Lindsey Vonn dated Tiger Woods. He felt Lindsey was beautiful, well known and successful, so why did she want to mess with that guy and his history of cheating? I got a laugh out of him by saying I made money on bumper stickers that read “Honk If You Banged Tiger Woods.” We wrapped up our half hour call as Lar said he had some work to do on the roof of his house.
Larry Lujack enjoying retirement in his Santa Fe home
Three months later, it was the week before Christmas and I’d been thinking of blowing a call down to Santa Fe. We always talked at the holidays and I had a strong urge to buzz in on this particular day. I held back because Larry often visited family in Idaho around that time of year and I figured I’d call him a couple of days before New Year’s.
The next morning I woke up at five (my usual time), turned on the TV and laid back down while closing my eyes. Channel 9’s Morning News was being read by Erin McElroy. She was about to preview what was coming up next and I got a sudden feeling I was about to hear something horrible. I never had this kind of premonition before or since but this was a strong quick shot of worry that hit me in a split second. Ten seconds later, Erin said they would have the latest on the passing of Chicago radio legend Larry Lujack. I shot up from my bed and jumped out of it like it was on fire! I kept my hand over my mouth, totally stunned.
I first assumed it was heart trouble that took Larry’s life since he had bypass surgery years before. Instead it was esophageal cancer which was diagnosed near the start of 2013. Larry Lujack was seventy-three years old when he passed. He used to joke to me that seventy seemed to be a tough age because it was three syllables, Sev-en-ty.
Calls and e-mails poured in to my house the morning the news broke and I reached out to others as well. I was put on the air with Bruce Wolf and Dan Proft on their WLS morning show, sharing some fond memories. I talked with a couple of other media outlets as well. Larry’s former cohorts like Tommy Edwards, John Landecker and Bob Sirott got lots of TV and radio air time to reflect on their memories of the legacy of Larry Lujack.
Tommy was the closest to Larry and the only person outside of the Lujack family who knew of his cancer diagnosis that was given ten months before. He let Tommy in on this secret because they still had business together selling Animal Stories albums online for charity. The radio business was the background for their long and tight friendship. Outside of his family and Lil Tommy, I was one of the few who could reflect most accurately on Larry. When Elvis died, it was natural for his rock n roll contemporaries like Little Richard and Carl Perkins to be asked about him. However, it was the King’s inner circle of assistants and security people known as the Memphis Mafia who knew him best. I was honored to be in Larry’s inner circle.
I called Jude that morning and her first words were “Mick, you were on my list of people to call.” I assured Jude this was a time for all who loved Larry to call and console her. Here’s how humble the guy was. Jude told me when Larry was nearing the end of his life he told her “You’re going to have to call a lot of people to let them know what happened to me.” He just didn’t get it that his passing would be huge news all over Chicago and in radio circles throughout the country! Larry figured he was just this former radio worker, now deceased and his wife would have to ‘get the word out.’ Please. No sir, we all knew and would know thanks to the immediacy of the internet and social media but more importantly, because of how we were all touched by the wit, humor and good memories brought to us by Larry Lujack.
One of Uncle Lar’s WLS publicity shots
My book will have much more on my time with Larry Lujack both on and off the air. I will always miss that I can’t call Larry and talk about the latest goings on in sports, media, politics & show-biz. Still, I have so many great memories of those times and for that, I count myself very grateful.