John Callahan, the hilarious quadriplegic politically incorrect cartoonist, died on Saturday at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Portland, Oregon, after undergoing surgery and treatment for a chronic bed sore. It’s the sort of thing he might have found funny – if it hadn’t killed him. He was 59.
Callahan became paralyzed from the waist down at 21 when he was barhopping with a man he met at a party in LA and the man crashed Callahan’s car into a pole at 90mph. Both men were drunk. Callahan had been a recovering alcoholic since 1978.
Callahan could extend his fingers but couldn’t close them around a pen, so to draw his cartoons he would wedge the pen between the fingers of his right hand, then use his shoulders to guide the pen with his left hand. Callahan’s cartoons dealing with the disabled were considered controversial, like the one in which the instructor at an aerobics class for quadriplegics says, “OK, let’s get those eyeballs moving.” In 1994, Callahan told the Chicago Tribune that “most people who object to my handicapped cartoons are themselves not handicapped. I get letters from other handicapped people who tell me, ‘Go for the gold.’ The handicapped enjoy that kind of humor. It breaks through the patronizing attitude the world has toward us. Frankly, we’re tired of people walking on eggshells around us.”
In recent years, Callahan turned his interest to music, and was involved in a master’s degree program in counseling at Portland State at the time of his death. “When he burned out on cartoons, he had to have something else to kind of get him excited,” said his brother Tom. “He never sat still, no pun intended.” (LA Times; Callahan Online)