Legendary Pacific Northwest journalist, talk-show host, media character and wit J Michael Kenyon passed away April 26 in Port Orford, OR. at age 73.
J (no period) Michael Kenyon, who worked four stints at the old Seattle Post-Intelligencer as a general columnist and sports reporter between the mid-1960s and early 1980s, died Wednesday in Port Orford, on the southern Oregon coast, at 73. No cause of death has been disclosed, but Kenyon had congestive heart failure for the more than a decade. No services are planned.
Kenyon, whose given name was Michael Glover, grew up in the Lake City neighborhood of Seattle, and graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1962 before briefly attending the University of Washington, where he participated in scrimmages with the men’s varsity basketball team. He was the first Post-Intelligencer beat reporter assigned to cover the NBA expansion SuperSonics in 1967 and also the paper’s first reporter assigned to cover the MLB expansion Seattle Mariners in 1977.
During his career, Kenyon worked for numerous media outlets, including The News Tribune in Tacoma, the Pasadena (CA.) Star News, Baltimore Sun and Yakima Herald. While at the Star News, toiling as a layout editor, he famously published a series of unflattering photographs of then-President Richard M. Nixon with the accompanying headline, “Would you buy a used car from this man?” That made headlines nationwide and came to define the former president in advance of his Watergate scandal.
In 1980, Kenyon became Seattle’s second sports radio talk show host, following KIRO’s Wayne Cody, on rival Seattle station KVI. He quit that job over disputes with management, which constantly sought to tamp down his often-controversial opinions about, well, everything and anything.
During his KVI career, Kenyon loved to secure guests and surprise them on-air with compromising and embarrassing questions, over which he would chuckle for days. More than one of his guests stalked out of his studio in disgust/horror in mid-interview. J Michael relished chaos in all its forms.
Kenyon either quit or was fired from the P-I four times. One firing occurred, according to what J Michael told friends and colleagues (and he told them many conflicting things), after he wrote a TV column that ripped the 1969 moon landing, which deeply offended his managing editor, Jack Doughty, a patriotic World War II veteran. J Michael’s final exit from the P-I in 1980 stemmed from his reporting on the Mariners.
Kenyon wrote frequently, and almost gleefully, about the “Jewish Six-Pack,” a reference to the team’s original ownership group, headed by entertainer Danny Kaye. Although P-I management repeatedly warned him not to use that phrase, Kenyon persisted and somehow slipped his work past editors.
As a result, the Bon Marche department store (now Macy’s), an executive of which had a stake in the Mariners, yanked its advertising from the newspaper. Despite hiring, at great expense, a big shot from the Washington Post to win back the account, the morning daily was beset by revenue problems. Its owner, the Hearst Corp. of New York, eventually agreed in 1981 to a joint operating agreement with the afternoon Seattle Times that allowed it into the morning market.
While he labored along with the expansion Mariners, Kenyon became the best beat reporter to cover the team, still true today. He could produce a game story in 10 to15 minutes, which enthralled P-I editors, and nailed the content. He could knock out riveting, well-researched feature stories in a relative blink.
But he also once turned in an $800 expense account for a champagne breakfast at a Detroit hotel to celebrate a birthday that included an ambulance ride to Tiger Stadium (never fully explained), exasperating those same editors.
By 1985, Kenyon was gone from the Seattle newspaper scene. He subsequently developed a spectrum of eclectic interests. He became an expert in thoroughbred horse racing, auto racing, hydroplane racing, rodeos, croquet and professional wrestling. He even delved into the esoteric history of semi-pro basketball in the Northwest prior to the arrival of the Sonics, publishing dozens of articles on a subject of minimal public interest.
He worked in those endeavors as a promoter, publicity director, fan, paid researcher and unpaid volunteer. For a time in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he lived in England, working as a horse-racing tout at Ascot and Epsom Downs. In 2010, having switched gears entirely, Kenyon was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, apparently for writing a riveting history of the “sport.”
“He was a famous wit, a radio talker, right-winger, golf nut, trivia expert, marriage enthusiast (five or six times) and spicy journalist,” wrote the late Emmett Watson, a long-time P-I/Times columnist, in 1993.
According to one-time P-I colleague Dan Raley, who profiled Kenyon in 2007 after he had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, Kenyon was one of the most memorable characters in the history of Northwest media, an assessment with which no one who knew him will disagree.
“He often became a better story than the one he was writing,” wrote Raley, who worked alongside Kenyon at the Post-Intelligencer. “He changed jobs, wives and watering holes (he once built an entire bookcase out of Amaretto bottles he claimed to have consumed) so frequently it was hard to keep track of him. He was lovable and despicable, all in one. He was talented and self-destructive. He was the city’s own Hunter S. Thompson, the sports edition.”
Kenyon told hundreds of stories about his life and adventures/misadventures, many of them changing from listener to listener, to old friends and perfect strangers, without prompting. That made it practically impossible — fact-checking a J Michael anecdote was virtually impossible — to verify exactly what was true. Kenyon seemed to enjoy the discrepancies and inconsistencies immensely, but his tales were always spellbinding.
He enjoyed playing, in real life, a variety of character types. In the late 1960s and 1970s, he dressed as a hippie with shoulder-length hair, a beard and sunglasses. Then he switched to leisure suits and ascots and berets. During his horse racing days, he wore ice-cream suits and a panama hat. Then he adopted a business look, shaving off all whiskers and wearing pin-striped suits and striped ties. For a while after that, he wore bib overalls, a la Mr. Greenjeans of 1960s kids TV. He seemed to dress to fit whatever suited his interest/occupation at the moment.
Everybody acquainted with Kenyon knew his “characters,” but never really knew Michael Glover. He kept that secret.
According to Raley’s story, Michael Glover changed his name at the suggestion of his second wife, a former stripper whom he met on a Sonics road trip in a Baltimore bar — or maybe it was a trip to the Indianapolis 500 — who thought “Glover” sounded boring.
In any case, the soon-to-be J Michael (no period after J because it didn’t quite fit into a one-column Post-Intelligencer byline) spotted a sign fort the Kenyon Printing Co. while driving State Route 99 and took the name.
Raley, who maintained communication with Kenyon over the years, reported that ex-scribe/radio gadfly died while sitting in a recliner with a bowl of chips on his lap. Another report said he died in his sleep. Perhaps he was asleep in his recliner.
In any case, one of the Northwest’s most colorful characters, media or otherwise, is survived by his wife, No. 5, or No. 6, Joan.
“He was married six or more times,” Raley said. “He e-mailed me many pearls of wisdom through the years, even recently. Not all of his ex-wives might feel this way, but I’m really going to miss this guy.”
One of those ex-wives, whom he married while wearing a Mariners uniform at the Ballard Locks, once tried to take him out with an ice pick on the observation deck of the Space Needle. She missed, another story J Michael loved to tell.