Timothy Swann McDarrah Dies At 59: Life Was A ‘Ballet of Chaos’

Journalist, author, and gallery owner Timothy Swann McDarrah, whose life mirrored the New York tabloid stories he covered, died on August 16, in Mount Sinai Hospital on the Upper East Side, in Manhattan. He was 59.

His son, Theodore Howard McDarrah, said the cause was acute myeloid leukemia. He had been in remission from multiple myeloma since 2019.

Journalism and the downtown New York art world were in his DNA. His father, Fred W. McDarrah, was the original photographer and longtime photo editor for the Village Voice; his archive is filled with the art, literary, and music stars of the mid-20th century, including Willem de Kooning, Andy Warhol, Jack Kerouac, and Bob Dylan. One of Tim McDarrah’s favorite lines was that he “grew up under the desks of the Voice.” His mother, Gloria Schoffel McDarrah, who died last year, worked at several publishing houses and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Fred McDarrah died in 2007.

Tim McDarrah embarked on a newspaper career while a student at the prestigious Stuyvesant High School, where he co-founded an underground newspaper, Apathy, in 1977, and interned at the East Hampton Star and The Villager. As an undergrad at SUNY Purchase, he was editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.

After graduating from the Columbia Journalism School, in 1985, Mr. McDarrah landed as a copy boy at the New York Post, where he quickly rose to reporter and editor of Page Six. Says Frank DiGiacomo, one of his Page Six colleagues: “I always admired his fearlessness and inventiveness when it came to our work for the Post — to this day, a number of his stories remain among the paper’s best scoops.”

Mr. McDarrah built a reputation for a brash, magnetic, only-in-New-York persona and reporting and writing style — for eight years taking on Post stunt pieces such as posing as a squeegee man on the Bowery, tracking down then Mets pitcher Dwight Gooden’s drug dealers, and being embedded with the Reverend Al Sharpton on his 1992 trip to Haiti. Mr. McDarrah was the award-winning byline behind a 1989 front page that published the answers to the New York State chemistry Regent’s Exam the morning of the test, forcing a cancellation for 80,000 high school students and costing the state $250,000 to re-do. His point: how simple it was for kids who could afford to buy them to get the answers.

When Guardian Angel (and current mayoral candidate) Curtis Sliwa was shot, in 1992, Mr. McDarrah filled in as co-host of Sliwa’s radio show, WABC’s Angels in the Morning, and he made weekly appearances on Nevada Public Radio in the early 2000s. He was also a regular on The Morton Downey Jr. Show in the late 1980s. He later worked at community newspapers in New York and the Hamptons, the Sporting News, the Las Vegas Sun, and Us Weekly.

Mr. McDarrah was born on March 29, 1962, in the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, and he lived in Greenwich Village for most of his life. In 1991, he married Caroline Howard (who once worked as a photo editor at the Village Voice and is now an executive editor at Forbes) at his parents’ home in East Hampton. The couple had a son, Theodore, in 1994, and divorced in 2001. In addition to Ms. Howard and their son, he is survived by a brother, Patrick.

A self-described nonconformist, his spirit fathers were Pete Hamill (who was briefly his editor at the Post), the Odd Couple character Oscar Madison, and his actual dad, Fred McDarrah. Tim McDarrah co-authored three books with his father: Kerouac and Friends: A Beat Generation Album; Gay Pride: Photographs from Stonewall to Today; and Anarchy, Protest & Rebellion, and edited a retrospective of his father’s work, Fred W. McDarrah: New York Scenes. He also signed a contract with Miramax Books/Hyperion in 1996 to write a book on Harvey and Bob Weinstein, the founders of Miramax Films, but never completed it.

When asked to pen a chapter in Dianne Selditch’s book My First Year as a Journalist (1995), he titled it, “A Ballet of Chaos:” “Sometimes we would exaggerate to have a better story. But there’s so much truth going on, so much that you can’t make up, that to risk your professional reputation, lose your job and personal integrity is not worth it. Yes. Tabloid reporters have integrity.”

After success came scandal. Mr. McDarrah had a dark side, and secret demons that exploded into full public view, including heroin addiction; he cycled through rehabs in Minnesota, Florida, and New York in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In 2005, while he was the “Hot Stuff” columnist at Us Weekly, he was arrested in an FBI sting on charges related to online solicitation of sex with a minor. Following an eight-day jury trial in Manhattan federal court, which was unsparingly covered in the national press, he was found guilty of one count of attempted child enticement and sentenced to six years in a minimum-security federal prison in Loretto, Pennsylvania.

After his release, in 2012, he came back to his childhood home to rebuild his life and relationships. Initially finding work in telemarketing, in 2015 he founded Save the Village, offering walking tours based on his father’s archives. After curating a Village Voice photo alumnus show in 2018, including works by Sylvia Plachy, James Hamilton, and Catherine McGann, Mr. McDarrah’s last act was to start his own downtown gallery, Art of Our Century. “I can’t do it [create art.] But maybe my art is being of service to those that can. And to those who are interested in what an artist can do,” he wrote in a blog post on the gallery’s site. The gallery helped to boost the careers of painter Khari Turner, fiber artist Dindga McCannon, and street artist Hash Halper, who died by suicide in June, among others.

When Mr. McDarrah agreed to move from the ICU to hospice at the end, he had one request: to go outside one final time. In trademark “rules don’t apply here” fashion, he was wheeled in his hospital bed two blocks down Fifth Avenue along Central Park to the palliative care wing, taking in the city he loved, pausing to stop in the sun and take in the sounds. When asked to describe himself for his obituary, Mr. McDarrah said, “I’m like New York. Hard to pin down.”   ❖

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Timothy Swann McDarrah Dies At 59: Life Was A ‘Ballet of Chaos’