Kenyon, a former Seattle newspaperman and radio host, died May 3 at age 73. He was the first Sonics beat writer and first Mariners beat writer for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
In a 1993 email to his old friend and fellow ink-stained wretch Emmett Watson, J Michael Kenyon wrote, “Don’t forget what the man said: ‘Life is a series of wrecks. Make sure you get washed up with the survivors.’ ”
For Kenyon, it was the wrecks — often glorious and hilarious and ambitious and outrageous, and more than occasionally wildly ill-advised — that helped make life worth living. Certainly, they are what his vast network of friends remember most vividly, and fondly, now that Kenyon is no longer among the survivors, having died May 3 at age 73 in Port Orford, Oregon.
Since his passing, many have noted that Kenyon — newspaperman, radio host, author, historian, promoter, raconteur — was larger than life. To which his friend Billy Mac notes, “He was more than that. He was life itself, indulgent of his appetites, consuming of the great pleasures of life — knowledge pre-eminent among them. I was always alive in his presence.”
Kenyon was the first Sonics beat writer and first Mariners beat writer for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, a newspaper he worked for on four different occasions between 1965 and 1980. Once, he was fired because of a story that made light of the first lunar landing.
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“My managing editor was pro-moon,’’ Kenyon told The Plain Dealer of Cleveland in a 1997 article about Kenyon’s stint as the P.R. man for a short-lived boxing venture — speaking of ambitious wrecks — launched by eccentric former major-league pitcher Dean Chance.
Kenyon, who grew up in Lake City and graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1962, was Seattle’s second sports radio talk-show host. Wayne Cody was the first, on KIRO, while Kenyon followed shortly on KVI, whose frequency of 570 he referred to as “the left-field foul pole” of the radio dial. The show was an eclectic mix where the guests were as likely to be a physicist, writer or politician as an athlete.
“It was supposed to be about sports, but it was really about the inside of J Michael Kenyon’s mind,’’ said Mac. “And I can tell you, it was the most voluminous mind I ever encountered.”
Kenyon began his career with his given name of Michael Glover. The story of how he became J Michael Kenyon fully encapsulates the man. For one thing, no one is quite sure what truly happened, which is the way he liked it. But whatever happened, it was definitely zany and impromptu, two Kenyon trademarks. The most famous version is that he was in Baltimore on a Sonics road trip and fell madly in love with a woman he met in a bar. She thought Glover was too boring a name, so he changed it to J Michael Kenyon after spying the Kenyon Printing Co. while driving down Highway 99 through Lynnwood.
Longtime friend Dean Silverstone counters that version, saying Kenyon changed the name for the sake of his P-I byline — which only fit if he eliminated the period after the “J.”
“His name was devised just for newspaper work, frankly,’’ Silverstone said before adding, “That’s what I think, anyway. There’s probably a thousand stories I don’t know about him.”
At any rate, the woman in question became one of Kenyon’s five wives (“the second and third came about under the influence of alcohol,” Silverstone said) and led to a short stint at The Baltimore Sun, where he was dismayed to find his byline shortened to “Mike Kenyon” because of its narrower column width.
Kenyon may or may not have driven a car into San Diego’s Mission Bay after a night of drinking on a Sonics trip, or ridden to a game in an ambulance. He most definitely was a renowned croquet aficionado, and dabbled in the worlds of hydroplanes, boxing, rodeo and horse racing, the latter during a stint living in England.
One of Kenyon’s many passions was professional wrestling, his knowledge of which was second to no one.
He and Silverstone, who bonded at a young age over their shared admiration for the wrestler Shag Thomas, later joined forces to form Western State Wrestling and promote events in Port Angeles on Thursday nights. That partnership was short-lived, but not the friendship.
“He was great for getting stories about me in the paper,’’ Silverstone said. “Once he called me slightly corpulent. I had to look that up in the dictionary.”
Kenyon edited or co-wrote dozens of wrestling books. He was working on a book about the first Sonics coach, Al Bianchi, at the time of his death. His final byline was as editor of Mac’s recently published biography of Dave Niehaus, called “My Oh My.” Niehaus came up with his “Fly Away” home-run call while driving with Kenyon in spring training.
In his autobiography, “I Ain’t No Pig Farmer!”, Silverstone wrote: “To the average Joe who has not been involved in wrestling, Kenyon’s life would appear extremely odd, but to an old carny such as myself, he’s just a decent, normal, fun-loving friend.”
Kenyon had a nickname for everyone. Close friend Cliff McCrath, the longtime Seattle Pacific soccer coach who was missing three fingers, was “World B. Nub,” a takeoff on the basketball player World B. Free (later shortened to World Nub). He dubbed Mariners’ radio producer Kevin Cremin “Wires” because of all the cords he had to connect. Niehaus was either “Dapper Dave” or “The Old Spieler.”
Kenyon, meanwhile, picked “Old Fall Guy” as his email handle. Kenyon seemed drawn to personalities that were as strong as his. As McCrath said, “I was one of the few guys that understood his stream of consciousness.” In a note to friends after Kenyon’s death, McCrath wrote, “His mind was muscular like a leopard’s and his ability to research the truth was frightening.”
Cremin noted that Kenyon was “an extremely likable character who was seemingly always jolly, amusing himself as well as amusing you.”
Added longtime Mariners executive Randy Adamack, who befriended Kenyon in the early days of the franchise: “He created worlds in his own mind, various and sundry worlds.”
One example: Kenyon devised the Real Baseball League, in which he charted results and standings solely for games involving the 16 original MLB teams that were played outdoors, on grass, during the day.
Not everyone got Kenyon, and certainly not everyone liked his style. As Dan Raley wrote in a 2007 P-I profile, “He has led an existence heavy on the theatrical and at times the haphazard, often becoming a better story than the one he was writing.”
The legend of Kenyon was largely based on his younger days, when he was a fixture at the local watering hole. His son, Oliver, told me, “the last 30 years, he’s not nearly as he’s portrayed as being in the stories.”
For one thing, Kenyon settled down with his fifth wife, Joan, to whom he was married nearly 25 years and clearly devoted to. In assessing his eccentric life, Kenyon would say his one regret was that he didn’t spend more time with his four children, two daughters from his first wife, Trudy, and two sons from his fourth wife, also named Joan.
“He’d be the first to say he was a really bad parent,’’ Oliver said. “I’d spin that. He could have been a really good dad if he was around more. He was very kindhearted. He always remembered our birthdays. He told us he loved us more than most other dads. He just wasn’t around. He was doing sports and bars and living in different places.
“All of us would say it was hard being his kid, but at the same time, we loved him a ton, and he loved us back,’’ he said.
Kenyon had been suffering from congestive heart failure for years. According to McCrath, he died “sitting in his recliner with a bowl of chips in his lap.”
There will be no services. Instead, Kenyon’s ashes will be placed into multiple vials and distributed to various friends to, in McCrath’s words, “spread on golf courses, fields of conquest, wrestling mats, various bars, bodies of water — where hydroplanes have toppled or tipped — and other sites where his elbows or toes have touched down.”