Departed, the Destroyer: Rest in peace, Warren Murphy

Destroyer #3 - Chinese Puzzle

I’ve been away for awhile, so a quick word before I get started. Sorry to those who have e-mailed me or tried to contact me via Twitter. I think I got back to everyone, in some cases two months late. I had a much-needed vacation, the happy occasions of two friends’ weddings, and other stuff, all good, but it kept me away from the site and associated things. Thanks as always to Nick for picking up the slack.

I’d like to spend time writing more excuses, because I don’t relish writing what follows.

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I don’t know if I’ve read more books by Warren Murphy than I have of any other writer. I do know that I’ve read more books with Warren Murphy’s name on the cover than I have of any other writer.

Lots of those were ghostwritten, because Warren created the Destroyer, one of the longest running, and to my mind unquestionably the best, of the books publishers categorized as “men’s adventure.” There are over 150 volumes. He wasn’t going to write them all. I think I’ve read about 75, and I’m not stopping until I’m done.

In the glut of what were often terrible (if sometimes fun) crank-’em-out books oriented at guys (although there are plenty of girls who liked them, too), the Destroyer stood out. They were piercing in their satire and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, and, unlike much of the competition, the funny was on purpose.

The core of it, the heart, the thing that made it all work, was the great characters that Murphy and his partner Richard Sapir (who died much too young) created–Remo Williams, and the master of the martial art of Sinanju, Chiun. Chiun, the deadliest man alive, obsessed with soap operas and Barbra Streisand. Remo, the man whose past has been erased, brooding often, occasionally getting satisfaction from delivering justice to those who deserve it.

And let’s not forget Harold W. Smith, their straitlaced boss who doesn’t seem to have a creative thought, until you recognize that he basically invented the Internet in the 70s and was a deadly killing machine in WW II. Just make sure your paperwork is filled out correctly.

They are as much a part of me as Tarzan, Parker, Doc Savage, the Shadow, the Spider, James Bond.

Warren Murphy died (I don’t think he would like me using euphemistic language like “passed away”) on September 4 at the age of 81.

We were Facebook friends and had some back and forth in the comments every once in awhile. But I don’t claim that I knew him.

Someone who did is James Mullaney, who started as a Destroyer ghost, got cover billing eventually, and, if things go right in Hollywood (oooh, boy) will be scripting a Destroyer movie. This is what he wrote:

People who only knew Warren Murphy for his irascible Facebook persona didn’t know him at all. Yes, ask him what he thought of Rodney “Trevanian” Whitaker and you’d be combing expletives out of your hair for a week. But then there’s this…

Fifteen or a million years ago, I flew down to Pennsylvania to meet Warren for the first time. He had some business idea that required a face-to-face meeting so that he could look me in my “beady eyes.” (Life took detours for both of us, so this particular idea never saw the light of day). Way back then I was pretty much crippled by a bad back. I’d told him about my problem before I got there, but when he saw the nearly impossible time I had walking and just getting in and out of his car he offered to pay to get me to a doctor. The very first time we met in person. He meant it.

Flash-forward to about a year ago. My mom fell ill. Warren did right by his own mom, and took care of her until the end. He told me at one point that he’d changed more of her diapers than she had his. He understood how hard it was to care for a sick parent because he’d been through it. One day, a note came in the mail from Warren, along with a check for a thousand bucks. He knew it was tough, so he cut a check and apologized that it wasn’t more. That was Warren Murphy.

Warren’s health issues have been ongoing for many years, but the guy just kept chugging along. He’d grouse, he’d wind up in the hospital, he’d say it was close to the end…and then he’d turn around and seemingly get over pneumonia and cancer and everything else an overtaxed immune system shouldn’t have been able to swat back, but regularly did. Right now I’m hoping this is just him playing a dirty trick on all of us to see all the swell stuff we’ll be saying about him in the coming days.

My last correspondence with Warren was two days ago. He wrote a wonderfully positive note in which, despite his poor health, he shared his short, medium and long-term plans. I will be forever sad that he didn’t meet that long-term goal, and I will forever miss my friend, Warren Murphy. Rest in peace, pardner.

I don’t have anything to add to that, except to say that I hope you’re enjoying that Gordon’s Gin up there, Warren.

Related: Remo Williams’ adventure begins again–the Destroyer returning to film

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Thanks again to Nick for picking up the slack while I was away. I have some new Westlake scores of my own that I hope to showcase soon.