Terkel was an early influence on my thinking, after I read his classic Working when I was a teenager. When I read he had been influenced by my hero Woody Guthrie, I felt a kinship with him. Since then I've read many of his oral histories.
I loved his work and I'll miss him.
For nearly half a century, Terkel crisscrossed the country interviewing people from all walks of life about war, their jobs and a variety of other subjects. His conversations with the prominent and the uncelebrated became books that chronicled much of the history of the 20th century.
Terkel often said that America suffers from what he described as a sort of national Alzheimer's disease. So he wrote books such as Working, Hard Times and his Pulitzer Prize winner, The Good War — oral histories of labor, the Great Depression and World War II, respectively — to help jog the nation's memory.
Born on May 16, 1912, in New York, Terkel's given name was Louis. But like "Scarface" Al Capone, he moved to Chicago and he picked up a tough-guy nickname — which he borrowed from the lead character in James Farrell's 1930s Studs Lonigan trilogy.
Author and radio personality Garrison Keillor said Terkel's nickname and his raspy voice were a good fit.
"He sounded like he was packing heat," Keillor said. "But he was a lefty, and that's an unsual combination. So that's what first fascinated me about him."
Early in his career, Terkel was an actor, and he actually played gangsters on radio shows before he became a disc jockey. He moved from radio to television, but he was blacklisted during the McCarthy era because his beliefs in workers' rights, rent control and Social Security were labeled "socialist."
His improvised ABC-TV sitcom, Studs' Place — a precursor of sorts to Cheers, set in a greasy spoon rather than in a bar — was canceled in the early '50s.
But in the wake of that setback, he landed a job that would launch him on the path he followed for most of the rest of his life — and he was known to say, jokingly, "Long live the blacklist!"
Much more here, including video and audio clips.