- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Al Martinez, the longtime columnist for the Los Angeles Times who chronicled everyday life in Southern California over three decades, has died at age 85.

Martinez died Monday at a Los Angeles hospital of congestive heart failure, his wife, Joanne, told the Times (https://lat.ms/14QJqcV ). He suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The California native, who began his career as a reporter, penned his first column for the newspaper’s Westside edition on Jan. 5, 1984. He wrote about a confused elderly man in Palisades Park who agreed to an interview after being assured that the writer “was about as harmful as a nun among thieves.”

Over the next 25 years, Martinez spun personal tales of family life and work while weaving in larger issues like politics, corruption and AIDS.

Bill Boyarsky, a former Times city editor and columnist, said Martinez “was able to connect directly with people because he was a marvelous storyteller. He really could make a walk in the park sound like an adventure. … That was his great gift.”

His family life was a pivotal part of his columns, especially his spirited exchanges with his wife, whom he called by her maiden name, Cinelli. In one of his last Times columns, Martinez wrote about Cinthia, the eldest of his three children, who had cancer and died in 2011.

“It’s the people I’ve written about who march through my memory like an army of shadows,” Martinez wrote in his final column in 2009. “They all mattered to me, the clowns and the victims, those who gave and those who took …”

After leaving the Times, he penned a column for the Los Angeles Daily News and later for the LA Observed website.

He published several books and was the subject of the 2012 Huntington Library exhibit “Al Martinez: Bard of L.A.”

The exhibit’s curator, Sue Hodson, said Martinez had “an extraordinary ability to take something very personal and spin it out beautifully to make you laugh or weep.”

In addition to his wife, Martinez is survived by a daughter, Linda; a son, Allen; and six grandchildren.

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Information from: Los Angeles Times, https://www.latimes.com/

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