Acclaimed Writer Nick Tosches Dead at 69

His work included groundbreaking biographies of Jerry Lee Lewis and Sonny Liston

Nick Tosches
Nick Tosches, pictured here in 1997.
Louis MONIER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
By Tobias Carroll / October 20, 2019 1:03 pm

There’s a pantheon of great American writers who got their start writing about music in the 1960s. It’s group that includes writers as disparate as Ellen Willis and Lester Bangs — in other words, authors whose influence has spread to future generations of writers and whose work from the period has held up incredibly well. Nick Tosches is another writer with his start in that era, whose long career included forays into criticism, biography and fiction.

Tosches’s career reached its end on Sunday with his death at home at the age of 69, The New York TImes has reported

Tosches may be best known for a trio of acclaimed biographies: works about the lives of Jerry Lee Lewis, Dean Martin and Sonny Liston. He had a contentious style — the entry for his book Country on a Pitchfork guide to great books about music referred to it as a “bloody bar brawl of a book.”

Tosches’s greatest gift as a writer may have been a limitless ability to piece together cultural histories from seemingly disparate fragments, as in his book Where Dead Voices Gather. The cross-section of his work on display in the 2000 anthology The Nick Tosches Reader serves as a fantastic example of what one writer could accomplish, from detailed forays into the past to hypnotic crime fiction. 

Also worth mentioning: the man knew how to dress. The Times report on his life notes that “in late midlife Mr. Tosches cut a distinctive figure in that below-14th Street world, his natty dress inevitably commented upon by interviewers. One focused on his leopard-skin loafers, another on his silk homburg.”

Tosches’s work could be polarizing, but it was never boring — and his body of work offers plenty of writing that deserves to be read for generations to come. 

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