James Phelan, a crusty investigative reporter who played significant roles in uncovering some of the biggest stories of the last four decades and wrote the first major biography of Howard Hughes, has died at the age of 85.
"He was a dying breed," writer Patricia Lambert, a close friend, said of a man the New York Times once called one of the country's best investigative reporters. "The world is a sadder, barren place" without him.
Born in 1912 in Alton, Ill., Phelan grew up reading the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and dreaming of becoming a reporter. He got a job on his hometown paper, the Alton Evening Telegraph and, in 1947, moved to the West Coast to work for newspapers in Long Beach.
By 1954, chafing against the restrictions of newspaper writing, Phelan quit and became a freelancer. It was a portentous decision.
Over the years, he contributed articles to more than 60 magazines throughout the world including True, Fortune, Time, Cosmopolitan, the New York Times Magazine and the old Saturday Evening Post.