For the Phoenix, he was perfect — his stories the essence of everything young alternative journalism aspired to be: personal, opinionated, factual, and well said.
To say he fit right in with the self-appointed outcasts on the fringe of journalism would be an understatement. He was, despite his tweedy appearance, a model alt-journalist — overeducated, high intellect, honest (Boston) roots, and, behind his mock-Harvard pretentiousness, no pretentions.
Alas, he didn't stay with us. After his youthful adventures at the Phoenix and Boston Magazine, Michael hit the big time with TV Guide, People, and Parade. That such an adept thinker about politics and the arts instead devoted so much of his work to pop ephemera is a bit of a disappointment but no real surprise. Besides his masterful knowledge of politics, history, literature, ancient Greek, and God know what else, Michael was tuned in to everything culturally pop. Not that his entire career was consumed by junket interviews and star gazing, but those of us who knew him back in the day always thought he was born to create more permanent things.
Michael Ryan died, at age 58, on July 19, but I didn't get the news until it was reported in the Globe much later — ironically the same day that paper announced that Ted Kennedy had passed away. Whatever Michael Ryan wrote about, he wrote it to the max. Even relatively lucid scribes envied his ability to put words together to inform and entertain. His death, like that of all humanist geniuses, is a multiple-level loss — public, personal, inspirational.
Can I miss someone I hadn't seen in three decades? Absolutely. Those were the days, and Michael was deservedly center stage.