Phil Friedman

In today’s Observer, we have a long look at the life of Phil Friedman, a New York political consultant who reached the top of the profession in the 1980s, when he was in his early 30s, and who took his own life two weeks ago.

WCBS-TV’s Andrew Kirtzman was a close friend of Friedman’s, maybe the only one who spanned both Phil’s political world and his downtown social scene. Kirtzman’s eulogy last week captured a lot of what made Friedman both so dear and so frustrating to his many friends. We quoted from it a couple of times in the piece, but here’s a bit more from the relatively public sections:

“I met him at the peak of his career, when he was managing Andy Stein’s campaign for mayor, and I watched it all come crashing down. For the 12 years that followed, Phil continued to live like the wealthy man he once was, even though he often didn’t have a nickel. He swore never to work in politics again, and the idea of taking a job, or renting an apartment, was anathema to him. Phil could never accept the idea of living a modest life. I argued with him a hundred times about it. But he disdained the idea of joining the middle class. The very words sent a chill up his spine.

“So for a decade or so, Phil Friedman was the most glamorous homeless man in New York City. His chutzpah was an amazing thing to behold, and it would have shocked us all the more if he hadn’t been seducing us at the same time….

“He was beyond colorful. I was as close a friend as he had at the time, yet I never knew where he lived or what he did all day. A dinner out with him was a singular experience. It was always at a great restaurant, he always picked up the check, and yet he never really paid for it. He knew all the maitre d’s, and had a limitless tab with them, even though he never settled a one. His relationship with money was astonishing: I remember eating dinner with him once on the Upper East Side when a messenger arrived with a manila envelope filled with hundred-dollar bills. Where did it come from? Who knows?”