Bob Lassiter: A Compelling Communicator, Even to the End
I'm not sure why I felt that way. One look at the heartbreaking blog maintained by former Tampa Bay area radio star Bob Lassiter showed his days were seriously numbered.
But I thought I had time to get Lassiter's last story told -- the sad tale of a talent who never quite fit into the radio business and spent his last months fading in end stage kidney failure.
Lassiter passed away on Friday after slipping into a "dream like condition" two days before, according to a final blog posting which seems to have been made by his wife, Mary. He already had said goodbye on his blog earlier this year, but his health rebounded, and he began writing again, stopping for good on Oct. 3. He was 61.
"There's nothing left to say," he told me a few weeks ago, when I heard he had posted his last entry. "I found all I was doing was repeating myself. It's reptitious and frankly depressing."
But like his radio broadcasts, Lassiter's blog was also compelling for its honesty and in-your-face attitude. He wrote Sept. 25: "I always thought that I would live until I died - I did not realize that it could take so long, be so hard. In some respects, it's amazing how a body that clearly is failing clings on to life - fighting a losing battle, refusing to give in to the inevitable.
It's one thing to sit in a doctor's office, and be told that you are going to die - and having no real sense of what that means - and quite another experiencing the actual agonizing process. You ask what to expect, what it will feel like - you are told, but the words ring hollow until the sensation begins to kick in. The day comes where you hope that you simply fail to wake up - when life is no longer desirable - where the morning is a bitter disappointment as yet another day dawns."
And on Sept. 11: "This isn't the way I wanted to go - so sick at times I can think of nothing but my own misery. I wanted to go with dignity and poise.
I do not regret my decision, nor am I about to change it, but I had no idea of how hard it would be. How easily tears would come, how quickly self-pity could overtake me.
I wanted to be stronger, but as I slowly became everything I always detested about the old and infirm, my will has evaporated - as has my interest in life."
It reminded me lot of tenor and tone of his radio show, which I heard in his last few years on air at WFLA in the late '90s. Chain-smoking though the early evening, he would hold forth of various topics, presenting an incisely liberal viewpoint that seemed to drive some callers particularly batty -- something the "Mad Dog" as he was called back then, seemed to enjoy.
Turns out, there's a fair amount of Lassiter's material online, including this clip of his appearance with Rush Limbaugh on CNN's Crossfire. Someone has kept up a collection of his on air performances here. And thre's even a 30-minute clip from his 1988 appearance on a Tampa public access show dubbed Hot Seat (complete with an aendorsement from Chuck Norris!)
For folks who don't know the history of Tampa radio, Lassiter's passing may not mean much. But I always found him a uniquely compelling and tragic local figure -- a talented guy whose singular, anti-authoritarian style eventually had no home in the homogenized, conservative corporate world of modern-day talk radio.