John Cuneo, Chicago writer and producer, dead at 58

Mr. Cuneo will be remembered by family and friends as creative, caring — and always ready with a joke.

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John Cuneo, who worked in creative services at WGN, died at 58.

John Cuneo, who worked in creative services at WGN, died at 58.

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When his mother was diagnosed with dementia, John Cuneo dropped everything and moved from California into a converted upstairs apartment in his childhood home in Norwood Park.

In the midst of caring for her, he retained his gift for seeing humor and the human connection in almost everything.

One day, he walked into her hospital room wearing his glasses.

She said, ‘Oh, you look just like my son Johnny.’”

But when Mr. Cuneo removed the glasses, his mother immediately recognized the visitor was her son. He told friends it made him feel a little like Superman.

“He would put his glasses on and he would be like Clark Kent, and nobody’d recognize him,” said one of those friends, Chuck Kawal, “then he would take his glasses off and he was Superman.”

Mr. Cuneo, 58, is being remembered by family and friends as creative, caring and always ready with a joke. He died early last month at Lutheran General Hospital after a brief illness, according to his wife, Andi Stolle.

He graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in journalism and started his career as a reporter at the City News Bureau of Chicago, then moved to California and became a reporter for the Ventura Star-Free Press.

Yvette Shields worked with Mr. Cuneo at City News Bureau. They met in the summer of 1988, when Mr. Cuneo, who had a few months on her, trained her on what questions to ask and information to collect to appease their strict editors and the rewrite desk.

“John made fun of the fact that it was like the blind leading the blind while training me, but I appreciated his calm and steady guidance, his keen observations and funniness,” Shields said.

“He was always creative,” his wife said. “That’s why he was so good at interviewing people, because he could pick up on something right away. If people needed something solved, he could come up with it within minutes.”

Later he founded his own Los Angeles company, John Cuneo Productions, creating videos for clients that included the UC Davis MIND Institute, which researches neurodevelopmental disabilities.

From 2005 to 2019, he worked as a writer, producer and director for Punch Films. In 2011 his firm won a regional Emmy for a PSA for the Illinois Secretary of State’s office about the dangers of texting and driving.

More recently, he worked as a writer and producer at WGN America.

Mr. Cuneo loved his Shih Tzu, Bodacious. On their walks around the neighborhood, he got to know the neighbors — and Bodacious learned which ones kept dog treats in their pocket.

“He was really just a very wonderful human being,” his wife said.

Mr. Cuneo once formed a rock band with friends. After his freshman year of college, the band, called Last Generation, played on an East Coast tour, opening for The Hooters.

“We were 17, 18-year-old kids and we rented out a motor home and played some shows out East. … John was the one who had a plan and was like, ‘We’re gonna be rock stars,’” said Kawal, who was in the group.

John Cuneo was a skilled amateur drummer, according to friends and family.

John Cuneo was a skilled amateur drummer, according to friends and family.

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He had “flash and style,” Kawal said “He was very animated as a drummer. I think that’s what attracted attention to the band. He was a little guy. You’d see him behind the drums flailing around.”

“All through our career, John and I liked to get together and watch old movies and heckle the hell out of them,” said longtime friend Mike Carey. “And that’s how he developed a lot of comedy bits he would use when he was writing his own material, when he had his own company doing commercials and he produced little comedy shorts.”

He once told Carey “The Godfather” was a “perfect movie.” But he also appreciated those that were, so to speak, less than perfect.

The friends would get together every Halloween and watch the 1943 B movie “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man,” Carey said, “not because it’s very good — because it’s absolutely ludicrous. And we would laugh our heads off watching all the mistakes, and it’s just a charming movie.”

“You couldn’t be around John without having a smile, and he loved to tell a good story,” Carey said. “He always would find whatever the funny was in the story. … Even when he was sick, he was cracking the nurses up in the hospital room.”

Services have been held.

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