Malachy McCourt Dies at 92

Malachy McCourt at his home on the Upper West Side, 2007. David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons.

Though he was famous on both sides of the Atlantic, to Upper West Siders, the charismatic Irish-American writer and actor Malachy McCourt, who died Monday at 92, was also a beloved neighbor who made his home on the corner of West End Avenue and 93rd Street for almost 60 years.

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“He was Irish but he was a mensch,” said his longtime next door neighbor Jeff Baron, recalling him fondly as he stood in his building’s lobby.

Mr. McCourt’s health had been declining for several years. He told the New York Times last year he was suffering from several types of cancer, a heart condition and muscular degeneration. He died at a hospital in Manhattan.

Mr. McCourt, who was the younger brother of writer Frank McCourt, was best known as a memoirist and actor, appearing in several TV commercials and soap operas including “Ryan’s Hope,” in which he played a barkeep, and in numerous movies such as The Bonfire of the Vanities and Reversal of Fortune. Among his books is the best-selling memoir A Monk Swimming, published in 1998, which recounts his colorful life in New York through the years. He also wrote and performed in two plays with Frank. His niece Maggie McCourt, Frank’s daughter, recalled one of them in a birthday tribute to her uncle on Facebook last year.

“They wrote a play together called “A Couple of Blaguards” which is about their miserable Irish childhood, their poverty etc. The play is actually very funny. They sing, dance and have a good time frolicking and looking back on their lives,” Ms. McCourt wrote. (Frank McCourt was the author of several books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Angela’s Ashes, about their painful childhood in Ireland.)

Mr. McCourt was also a pioneer in talk radio and a political activist. In 2006 he ran for governor of New York as a Green Party candidate, losing to Eliot Spitzer.

Malachy McCourt dead

Malachy McCourt at Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park/Liberty Park, 2011. David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons.

He was born in Brooklyn in 1931 to Irish parents but raised in Limerick, Ireland after the family relocated there when he was three. He moved back to New York at age 20 to make his life here, several years after Frank had also returned. In 1958 he opened the popular Irish bar Malachy’s (on the Upper East Side), one of the first so-called singles bars in the city. (Some also claim that the first ever T.G.I. Friday’s, which was on the UES as well, was the world’s first singles bar. It opened in 1965.)

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He worked odd jobs in his early years in New York and, as he said, told stories, something he had a talent for – whether they were true or not. He was a raconteur with the gift of gab and a heavy Irish brogue. Novelist Frank Conroy dubbed him a ‘professional Irishman,’ suggesting that, in the early years, his Irish character and outsized fun-loving personality were his most marketable traits.

Mr. McCourt gave up drinking and smoking in the mid-1980s.

“He recently told me on the phone that family is what he is most grateful for. He also told me that he’s grateful for his sobriety, which has made his life worth living,” Maggie McCourt remembered in her 2023 Facebook birthday tribute.

At his West End Ave. building on Tuesday, his neighbor Mr. Baron, who is a playwright, said he and Mr. McCourt shared a love of writing and theater. He was a great neighbor who was generous with his time and advice, he added, noting that when Mr. Baron sold his first novel some years ago, Mr. McCourt took time to help him navigate the publishing world, such as showing him contracts and offering other business advice.

“He was a New York City treasure,” Mr. Baron said. “He was a very funny guy. He was always joking, he always had a big smile.”

One door attendant, Peachie Arada, also said Mr. McCourt always seemed happy. “He was always smiling, always saying hi,” she said. “He always made us smile. Every time I saw him. He had a great sense of humor.”

He also offered words of advice, Ms. Arada said. “He’d give me mottos for life a lot.”

Another door attendant, Kema Mahmuti, simply said “He was the best.”

In 2018 Mr. McCourt wrote the memoir Death Be Not Fatal, a comical and poignant look back at the many chapters of his life, the tragedies and joys. In it he shared musings on death as he saw the end of his life approaching.

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“As he rides the final blocks on his Rascal scooter, he looks too at the prospect of his own demise with emotional clarity and insight. In this beautifully rendered memoir, McCourt shows us how to live life to its fullest, how to grow old without acting old, and how to die without regret,” reads the Amazon description of the book. “In his inimitable way, McCourt takes the grim reaper by the lapels and shakes the truth out of him.”

Tributes to Mr. McCourt have poured onto his Facebook page and across the internet.

Mr. McCourt is survived by his wife, Diana McCourt; his children, Siobhan, Malachy Jr., Conor, and Cormac; a step-daughter, Nina Galin; and numerous extended family members. He was the last surviving sibling among seven. His brother Frank passed away in 2009.


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