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Larry Zolf - A Rare Spirit Gone

The news of Larry Zolf's passing comes with an extra sting for me.  I can't claim anything like
a full friendship with him over his many years at CBC, some of which coincided with my own
wanderings through the corporation.  But I did, even so far back, work on a show over which he
was both one of the producers and a writer.  It was called Up-Canada (only TV archeologists will recall it), and was intended to be a news plus satirical show - a division of intent the show never really conquered.  It's difficult to be grim and foreboding (which was what most period documentaries were) and then light, zany and blisteringly funning in the few spots that remained.  But it was just such a juxtaposition Zolf was master of - he could leap from idle absurdity to high reflection in a flash.  It's piercing now to recollect that such a rare spirit has gone.

The Zolf of that period was a revelation: he had a high-powered, high-speed mind that raced through ideas and topics and stories with ferocious energy, with Zolf himself (vainly) trying in his free-association style monologues to,  if I can put it this way, keep up with himself.  He was funny, deliciously well-informed on all political and media gossip, and took from his own talk an almost secondary energy.  You - we - went to find Larry to have an experience, not a conversation.  But, and let me be clear on this, he wasn't showing-off, or demanding the spotlight.  Larry was a one-of-a-kind-talker.  To some measure, this was what most - not defined - but marked him.  I can't remember conversations such as those I had with Larry from anyone else, or anything close to them.  They were a mixture of sophisticated commentary, free riffs on some personality, dips into literature or philosophy, tranches of the most ribald sexual gossip and political scandal, all delivered at 200 words a minuteand sparkling with one-liners and the most congenial outbursts of laughter.

larryzolf.JPGBehind, or in addition to that persona, was a very fine mind and an extremely gifted pen.  Zolf never really, in my judgment, gave full evidence of his talents as a writer, though his book on Trudeau (for whom he had a fascination - they had met, Zolf, if I recall correctly, even having written a speech or two for the "philosopher") - called Dance of the Dialectic - was a singular, even unique, take by a Canadian journalist on Canadian politics.  It buzzed with that high-frequency Zolf intelligence, never at rest with a single idea or impression, but creating through the energy of its prose and the drive of its semi-philosophic framing (I'm writing from memory) a wonderful portrait of both Trudeau and Zolf.

Larry Zolf was warm, intelligent far beyond the usual measure, highly cultured and gifted with an overflowing love of story and humour - truly one of a kind.  He was larger than any job he fell into, and from his earliest broadcast debut - the famous This Hour has Seven Days -  through his entire career, he was a (here's that word again) singular presence and personality.  A man of wit, style and passion - I'll miss him.

Read the cbcnews.ca story CBC journalist Larry Zolf dies, March 14, 2011, which includes links to some of Larry's columns, as well as his interviews for CBC Radio and Television in the CBC Archives.

Watch the video on Larry's passing from The National on March 14, 2011 at cbc.ca/video.

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