Al Weisel, Blogger ‘Jon Swift’, Dead at 46

Al Weisel PhotoThe author and movie critic Al Weisel, best known in the blogosphere as the faux conservative satirist Jon Swift, died recently.  The tragic news, and the even more tragic circumstances, was broken by his mother on the comment section of his defunct blog:

I don’t know how else to tell you all who love this blog. I am Jon Swift’s Mom and I guess I’m going to OUT him. He was Al Weisel, my beloved son. Al was on his way to his father’s funeral in VA when he suffered 2 aortic aneurysms, a leaky aortic valve and an aortic artery dissection from his heart to his pelvis. He had 3 major surgeries within 24 hours and sometime during those surgeries also suffered a severe stroke. We, his 2 sisters, his brother, his partner and his best friend since he was 9 years old were with him as he took his last breath. We have all lost a shining start who warmed our hearts, tormented us and made us laugh as he giggled at our pulling something over on us. He passed away on February 27, 2010. My beloved child will live on in so many hearts. I miss him more than I can say. If you are on Facebook, go to organizations and join “Friends of Al Weisel, Unite!” It will give you just a taste of how special he was. Farewell, Jon (Al)

Truly sad news.  Aside from the horror of losing your son so unexpectedly, doing it while getting ready to bury your husband is too cruel for words.   It’s good to see that she’s at least moving forward.

Compounding the pathos further, the news was posted on the last-ever post at Jon Swift blog, almost exactly a year old, titled “Sometimes There Are No Words” and linking to Chuck Butcher‘s post announcing that his son, Nicholas Andrew Butcher, had taken his own life.  I recall the post, which was widely circulated at the time, but hadn’t realized it would be the coda to the site.

As with all blogs these days, I visited only when something interesting popped up in my feed reader or following a link from elsewhere, so was only vaguely aware that the site had lapsed.

So far as I know, Swift’s real-life identity was successfully kept secret from all but his closet friends.  As Al Weisel, he co-authored “Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause.”  A collection of his non-blog writing can be found here.

A tremendous number of eulogies and remembrances are being posted around the blogosphere — left, right, and center — and more will file in as the news spreads.  A few of the most noteworthy are linked and summarized below.

Vanity Fair‘s James Wolcott observes, “Years before The Colbert Report came on the scene with eyebrows raised, Weisel/Swift used indignant rightwing rhetoric and tropes to spoof righteous rightwing jingoism.”

Tom Watson (no, not that Tom Watson) knew Al personally and reflects, “Al Weisel was the political poser’s worst enemy as Jon Swift, but he was also a good guy to hang around the pub with and commiserate over New York’s shrinking freelance rates. Gone all too soon, he’ll be truly missed by many.”

Skakesville‘s Melissa McEwan was likewise a colleague at another blog and observes, “He drifted in and out of blogging, when real life accommodated or got in the way. I was a genuine fan of his writing, and he was an absolutely delightful guy in every conversation I had with him.”

Jason Chervokas, a lifelong friend, has a long reflection on Al’s complicated existence.  Particularly interesting, for those of us who knew him only as a pseudonymous blogging satirist, is that “keeping secrets was definitely one of Al’s most treasured inner pastimes. . . . I know Al was proud of Jon Swift, perhaps a little frustrated by his inability to make it pay off in a kind of Matt Drudgey way. He certainly was gleeful about poking fun at conservative group think (sometimes the line between his parodies and the non-parodic statements of actual conservatives was indecipherable), and his malicious, gleeful, nervous laugh will be sorely missed. But I keep wondering, reading the Swift mourning, how many personae Al really had and who among his family, friends and lovers actually knew all of Al?”

That’s probably true of most of us.  But probably even moreso in this case.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.