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Rosemary Breslin, 47; Wrote of Her Disease

June 16, 2004|From Newsday

Rosemary Breslin, a New York-based writer who wrote a critically acclaimed book about her bout with a rare blood disease that has no name, has died. She was 47.

Breslin died Monday at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City of the chronic illness. She was the third of six children born to Newsday columnist Jimmy Breslin and his first wife, the former Rosemary Dattolico, who died in 1981.

Rosemary Breslin grew up in Queens and graduated from the Kew-Forest School in Queens and from Hamilton College in upstate Clinton, N.Y., where she received her degree in Asian studies. She began her reporting career in the late 1970s at the now-defunct Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, where she impressed colleagues with her zeal to learn the craft of writing.

"She was terrific," recalled Don Forst, a Herald-Examiner editor who is now editor of the Village Voice. "She was smart, she was learning how to write, she was always eager for help in becoming better at what she was doing."

Breslin's nascent career took her to the New York Times and then the Daily News in New York, where she wrote feature stories. Her mysterious illness set in during 1989, when she was 32. The headache that wouldn't go away, as she once described it, was determined to be life-threatening, and she underwent unremitting transfusions, treatments and doctor's visits.

She had been sick for about two years when friends fixed her up with Anthony Dunne, a set designer and TV producer. She fell in love -- unexpectedly, she would write later -- and moved into his Greenwich Village apartment. They married in 1994.

While battling her illness, Breslin became fluent in Italian, crafted scripts for "NYPD Blue" and described her feelings about her condition in a series of essays published in the Los Angeles Times and New York Newsday. The pieces mixed warmth, humor and raw, unflinching candor. One essay, for example, described a good life -- hers -- likely to be cut short.

"Essentially, this illness affects my red blood cells," she explained. "Doctors speculate that perhaps I caught a virus or had a toxic reaction and that my body created an antibody to fight the invader ... but [it] did not stop there. It apparently can't differentiate between the now defeated invader and my healthy red blood cells.... It is truly because of the miracles of modern science that I am alive."

Her 1997 memoir, "Not Exactly What I Had in Mind: An Incurable Love Story," drew praise from reviewers, who called it charming and funny and who noted that it avoided sounding overly graphic or morbid.

In addition to her husband and her father, Breslin is survived by brothers James, Kevin, Patrick and Christopher; a sister, Kelly; and her stepmother, Ronnie Eldridge.

Funeral services are scheduled for Thursday.

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