Rick Soll, an award-winning reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune, died Friday of lung cancer. He was 69.
Mr. Soll, the husband of WBBM-Channel 2 reporter Pam Zekman, was a star writer of the 1970s and 1980s known for his investigations, combat coverage and punchy profiles of colorful characters.
In 1973, the Tribune sent Mr. Soll to the Middle East to join correspondent Philip Caputo as he covered the “October war.”
“He’d never done any foreign correspondence, let alone any war reporting, and he was quite young at the time,” Caputo said Tuesday.
But Mr. Soll earned the respect of Caputo, a Pulitzer prize-winner and novelist who wrote the acclaimed Vietnam memoir “A Rumor of War.”
“He was a very good writer, a very strong writer,” said Caputo. “He had a gift. These wonderful phrases could just roll off his typewriter.”
While traveling with Israeli forces, Mr. Soll had his first encounter under fire, as the soldiers he was with were chased and an Israeli soldier was hit.
Afterward, “He was white as a sheet. He had a really terrifying experience,” Caputo said. “Despite the fact he’d been somewhat traumatized, he wrote a beautiful piece about what that whole experience was like.”
Mr. Soll had a light touch with feature stories. He began a 1984 article in the Sun-Times like this:
“Ilya stacked his towels and arranged his exotic oils, judging the time by the noise in the locker room.
“By 7:30 a.m., the East Bank Club is already host to the crazed wing of Chicago’s health nuts, and visions of sore muscles dance in Ilya’s head.
“ ‘I give one great massage,’ ” he says. “ ‘Maybe the best.’
“Maybe he does. But it makes you wonder: Ilya Kamenetsky, 57, father of two, former hero of the Soviet Red Army, rich and distinguished Moscow attorney, now doing time in the men’s locker room at the East Bank Club.”
He interviewed Harrison Ford, porn star Barbara Bourbon, jazz great Stan Getz and singer Peggy Lee. He reported on heiress Patty Hearst’s kidnapping and investigated cocaine smuggling. He also wrote for and edited the Chicagoland Monthly and the Chicago Times and did articles for Chicago magazine.
In 1975, Mr. Soll left the Tribune after an investigation found that one of his columns duplicated passages from an earlier piece by another writer and that another column contained false information. His following was strong, prompting editor Clayton Kirkpatrick to pen an explanation to readers, saying that while Mr. Soll was a “young and talented columnist,” the Tribune was accepting his offer to resign.
Later, he wrote for the Sun-Times.
“He was no longer that green, very nervous, very young ‘kid columnist’ at the Tribune who got into that awful jam and who was held up, almost, to ridicule, by Clayton Kirkpatrick,” said Lois Wille, a retired two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner who worked for the Sun-Times and Tribune as well as the Chicago Daily News.
Based on magazine articles Mr. Soll produced, then-managing editor Gregory Favre invited him to work for the Sun-Times, Wille said.
“Gregory just saw him as a writer who could use words in a fresh way,” she said. “There was a certain effervescence about him, a buoyancy in his writing and his personality, that was new. He was reborn at the Sun-Times.”
After being widowed, legendary newspaper columnist Mike Royko met his second wife, Judy, through Mr. Soll and Zekman, who arranged a blind date. Rokyo “adored” Mr. Soll, Judy Royko said.
“Mike insisted he be godfather to both our kids,” she said. “He loved my kids with all his heart.”
She said her husband and Mr. Soll “had so many things in common. They were both such good people.”
Bill Eaton — a friend and fellow dog-lover — said Mr. Soll once drove him 50 miles to Indiana so Eaton could adopt a German shepherd mix he spotted online.
“I told Rick about it, and Rick drove me all the way to Crown Point to pick up the dog, and then he paid for the vet bills — the shots and everything — because he knew how much I was jonesing for a dog, and he knew I couldn’t afford it at the time,” said Eaton, an artist.
A graduate of New Trier High School and Colgate University, Mr. Soll earned a master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He later taught at Medill.
He also enjoyed drumming and spending time with the couple’s collies, Sophie and Oliver.
Mr. Soll is also survived by a brother, Michael Soll. A memorial is planned for 2 p.m. Saturday at his family’s home.