Another of America's most colourful – and almost legendary – journalists has died. Johnny Apple of the New York Times died in his sleep at his home in Washington, aged 71. He had for some time suffered from thoracic cancer.
During his 40 years at the New York Times (in which he was always bylined R.W. Apple Jnr) the appropriately rosy-cheeked newsman, with his Churchillian demeanor, Falstaffian appearance and appetite for good food, traveled the world covering wars and revolutions, politics and natural disasters. He was bureau chief in Lagos, Nairobi, Saigon, Moscow and London – a post he held for almost ten years.
He also covered 10 American Presidential elections. He headed The NY Times' coverage of the Vietnam War for two and half years in the Sixties, the Persian Gulf War a generation later and the Iran Revolution in between. To the end he kept a small black bag packed with necessities in case he had to leave at a moment's notice to cover a big story.
It included a personal pepper mill – a symbol of his interest in good food which, in between big stories , he wrote about for The Times. He could be short-tempered colleagues recall, especially about food. Once he complained to the news desk that a fellow reporter has misspelled fettucini Alfredo.. Once in an Indian restaurant in Uganda he warned his dinner companions "No prawns at this altitude" They were taken away!
Dinner guests at his home in Washington, his farm near Gettysburg in Pennsylvania and. at his cottage in the Cotswolds often included some of the world's top politicians and celebrities in the theatre, art and architecture – and, a tribute to his standing as a food expert, the world-renowned cook and food critic Julia Child.
The son of a grocery store owner in Ohio, he started in journalism on the Wall Street Journal, after moonlighting on a local paper in Virginia while he spent two years as a US Army speech-writer. For a time he was a writer for NBC television news, where he won an Emmy Award. But it wasn't until he joined The Times and was sent to Saigon that he began to make a name as a journalist.. He hitched rides to the battle zones, dictated his dispatches on field telephones. Another famous NY Times journalist, James "Scotty" Reston, once wrote that Johnnie Apple didn't invent the war but taught a whole generation how to cover it. But it was as a political reporter that he really made his name. Colleagues often felt he deserved a Pulitzer Prize, but although nominated several times, journalism's top prize always eluded him.
In 1976 he was appointed London bureau chief a position which he held until 1985 and in that time covered not only British politics but the Falklands War, elections in France and Spain, the revolution in Iran and the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II. In his travels around Europe he amassed a wine cellar that kept his dinner parties supplied for decades.
During his recent years he wrote about food more and more and traveled the world reviewing restaurants in the remotest countries and cities. For his 70th birthday he threw a dinner party at his favourite Paris restaurant, Chez L'Ami Louis, at which guests were served heaped plates of foie gras, escargot , scallops and roast chicken washed down with gallons of burgundy and magnums of Calvados.
In a statement to staff, New York Times editor Bill Keller noted that even in his sick bed Apple – the great Johnny Apple, he called him – hammered out a final travel article (which ran last Sunday), planned the menu and music for his funeral service – and even kept up with the latest Congressional scandal.
"He cheered up the friends who came by to cheer him up. He was himself to the last," said Keller.