Photo by Lonnie Timmons III, The Plain Dealer

Cleveland Lost a great literary artist and story-teller yesterday when American Splendor author Harvey Pekar died at age 70.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer devoted much of Page 1 to the news.  William Grimes wrote a worthy obituary in The New York Times.

And while the appreciations are beginning to flow, no one has written a more thoughtful one than Anthony Bourdain on his blog today.  On location in Spain for his show No Reservations, Tony took time out to write a piece that places Pekar precisely in the context of his time and of the city that gave him such rich material.  As readers know, I try to avoid thanking Tony in public for anything, what with all the trouble he gets me into, but Tony, you’ve done Harvey right here and I am truly grateful. You nailed it.  Thank you, from all of Cleveland.

I’ve been informed that there will be a special airing of the Cleveland Episode of No Reservations—one of Bourdain’s proudest achievements, he says—on Monday at 9 pm eastern for those who would like to see a true and valuable portrait of a truly original American.  Our city is diminished today by his loss.  Long live the work of Harvey Pekar.


25 Wonderful responses to “Goodbye, Harvey Pekar”

  • Lisa

    A sad loss, especially for the people of Cleveland. That No Res ep is one of my favorites. RIP Harvey.

  • Carolyn Jung

    I loved that “No Reservations” episode. It so captured the unique spirit that Harvey had. I’ll definitely be watching it again and thinking of this incredibly creative soul.

  • Dean

    I had the pleasure (if that’s the right word) of meeting him in the mid 70’s while working at the Case Western Reserve campus radio station WRUW. We had a phenomenal jazz collection and he’d come in and trade albums. I never realized at the time what a big impact he’d have. Wish I’d gotten to know him better. America’s splendor is still there, but maybe just a bit diminished with his loss.

  • Craig Heimbuch

    What was it about that episode? About that moment? Here you have Tony, the tough seen-it-all New Yorker – the kind of guy who thinks, in a way, life dies west of New Jersey only to be reborn again in San Francisco. He’s the man who loves to hear himself talk, who loves to look down his nose on things if for no other reason than comic relief. And then he meets Harvey. The heart of Cleveland or, at very least, the reflecting pool of its soul. I come from that city. And in my dreams it, not New York or Boston or San Francisco or Cairo, is where I long to be. In part, because of a guy like Pekar, who took one look at Bourdain and with a wrinkle of his wooly brow expresses that thing all Clevelanders have, that mixture of inferiority and unaweabiltiy. With that one look, he asked, “Who the fuck are you? And who the fuck do you think you are?” It was awesome. I am a fan of Tony’s, a big one. But I am a bigger fan of Cleveland – my town that has seen better days and felt better about itself, but knows (perhaps better than anywhere else in this country) how to take a punch, how to fall and, most importantly, how to get back up and break the bastard’s nose. Cleveland will miss Harvey Pekar, perhaps more than anywhere else. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the world will not feel his absence. I assure you, it will.

  • Natalie Sztern

    It was this blog that first introduced me to this man Harvey Pekar and I remember how funny he was. A small comic strip shoved me into my library to get out a book of ‘funnies’ by Mr. Pekar and his personality, akin to many I know, rang funny to my ears. Perhaps not to everyone’s; but how sad for those who appreciated him and unfortunate for those that didn’t.

  • JIM D.

    I’m a Steelers fan, but of the few good things about Cleveland, aside from R&R HOF, Hot in Cleveland and anything Ruhlman is Mr. Pekar. He is more of a superhero than Batman, Superman and any other character. only because he was real.

    My thoughs go with Joyce and Danielle.


  • Karen Downie Makley

    Thanks for posting this. I don’t have a real sense of Pekar’s presence outside of Cleveland, but I know he struck a chord with, and vibrated on the same wavelength as, many Clevelanders…the C.Hts./Coventry community, especially. I know he will be deeply missed.

  • mark g. davis

    Thanks for the article and links Mr. Ruhlman. I’m new to Cleveland (2007), but have always been a fan of anything Cleveland. Love your writing and food passion. I had the privilege of listening to your talk at TEDxCLE which I thoroughly enjoyed. Keep up the great work.

    P.S. Any idea what time the rebroadcast will occur of the episode on TC?

  • KristineB

    Very sad to hear about Mr. Pekar. The No Res Cleveland episode is definitely my favorite. And what a great job, I thought, Paul Giammati did as Harvey. I’m going to have to watch it again in homage.

  • Melinda

    How ironic that Harvey passed the same day the Heartland episode aired. Throughly enjoyed the show – but it was bittersweet –

    will watch the repeat of the cleveland show – it was wonderful – thanks Michael –

  • Tags

    All in all it seems to go

    thanks to you and Tony we didn’t have to wait til he was gone to know what we got.

  • Katy

    I agree, Michael!.. that was a wonderful piece that Tony wrote–he “gets us” and what we’re all about here in Cleveland (which, as we’re used to, not many people take the time to do–though they should!)…Harvey will be missed–but he will live on in his work.

  • Rob Meyer

    Anthony Bourdain is ridiculous. His dismissal of such vast swaths of America is incredible. How can this guy think he can sum up Cleveland or Pekar or anything else outside of Manhattan. He so clearly hates most if this country, I’m always surprised at how Ruhlman can stand him. Bourdain’s a good writer when he sticks to “real cities” like Manhattan, but when he ventures to Queens or Cleveland or Buffalo he’s out of his depth. If he lived anywhere else, he’d get his ass kicked every five hours.

    • Kelly

      UUUHHHMM, so how often does your negative, unpleasant ass get kicked?

  • Vivek

    Not just Cleveland: we’re all diminished without Harvey Pekar. The ability to find the extraordinary in the seemingly mundane, rather than needing to contrive already extraordinary circumstances, is rare enough.

  • Charlotte

    American Splendor, the movie, on my MacBook got me through a terrible personal anniversary which was made no easier by being spent in Paris. Pekar’s worldview, that we’re all fucked, but that the world is nonetheless beautiful in unexpected ways was a solace at a very dark moment. It’s a big loss for us all …

  • DJK

    While I don’t get the hate or dismissal out of it that Rob Meyer does, I do think that outsiders like Bourdain and Letterman have a very shallow understanding of Cleveland when they choose to see it embodied in Harvey Pekar.

    We could do a lot worse as far as stereotypes are concerned than likably quirky and miserable, but it seems to me that this stereotype still distances us as something that isn’t to be respected or taken seriously.

  • Rhonda

    Personally, I did not ever “get” Harvey Pekar. Entertaining — somewhat, yes. Mostly No. I always wondered if he was Autistic.

    He had a genius for describing the world – just not dealing with it.

    From what I have learned of him, he seemed like a major pain in the ass which we all now have to talk kind about because he died.

    Perhaps he was a pain in the ass because he made us think — and that took work.

    Just the kind of people I love but rarely call back.

    I hate comic books and their form but I admire the way he lived his life — which to me, was more important. Be a contradiction!

    To me, his legacy and teaching is to look at the world with open eyes — do it your own way and make your own reality.

    I admire him for that and for you Michael for this tribute.

  • Carrie

    I didn’t know him personally, so I can’t comment on his personal character. But I loved his crankiness and his firm grasp on the reality of normal life. There aren’t many who end up with a public audience that know what it’s like to have a normal, day to day blue collar existence. His perspective was unique, and it will be missed.

  • Carrie

    That’s funny you say that Rhonda – I was recently thinking about how unable you are to deal with us plebian cooks. Maybe you and Harvey had more in common than you think.

    • Rhonda

      Carrie, you could be right.

      Not gonna lie to ya. I am a MAJOR pain in the ass and a skosh cranky from time-to-time. 🙂

      Good observation.

      • Carrie

        I enjoy your bitchtastic comments the same way I enjoyed Harvey’s work. I don’t have the balls to be a cranky pain in the ass in my day to day life but I secretly am in my head. So although I don’t share your professional cooking aesthetic (I’m just a home cook – don’t judge!) I applaud your passionate defense of what you feel is right. 🙂

  • Jim

    Bourdain’s blog has an amazing eulogy. There is something about towns like ours, guys like Harvey, things that are flawed but unique, decrepit but beautiful. Makes the world a more interesting place.

  • Tom Weber

    Michael – thank you for the post and link to Tony’s excellent blog. My wife and I watched the Cleveland episode last night and I’ve been thinking about it all day. There’s a moment where it goes from being a really good hour of television to where it becomes a beautiful event rarely ever seen on a small or big screen. It’s at Sokolowski’s when you are having dinner with Harvey, Toby and Anthony. Here you are, pretty famous author, TED contributing sophisticate with freakin Anthony Bourdain and these two guys that look like Cleveland losers. (I’m from Cleveland – so I know what we look like). It would have been so easy to make fun of Toby’s odd manners or joke about Harvey’s teasing of Toby’s diet plan. But it wasn’t that way at all – it was a table of equals, of respect, of pride and I believe that meal caught on tape may be one of the most authentic moments on TV ever. Losing Harvey is a big deal for America and for Cleveland in particular and I am just grateful that we have his work AND the Cleveland episode to remember him and my hometown in the fond way they both deserve.


  1.  Harvey was Harvey: Remembering Harvey Pekar | Coventry Village – Cleveland Heights, Ohio
  2.  Cleveland Foodie
  3.  Comics A.M. | The comics Internet in two minutes | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment
  4.  Ruhlman on Harvey Pekar. « Chickenfoot Soup