By the time Eric Breindel's flag-draped coffin was wheeled out of the Park Avenue Synagogue and into a waiting hearse on a dreary, rain-soaked morning last March, there was little doubt that this was exactly the kind of grand, high-voltage funeral he would have wanted. The crowd of mourners was a robust cross-section of the city's reigning aristocracy: politicians and journalists, moguls and socialites, novelists and Wall Streeters. Barricades closed 87th Street to all traffic except the limousines. The NYPD even provided a full-dress color guard.
Inside the synagogue's ornate, vaguely Moorish sanctuary, the mood was somber but chatty. Topic A was the star wattage of the event. Who, except a handful of insiders, could have guessed that the editorial-page editor of the New York Post, the raucous, partisan, journalistically flimsy New York Post, would attract a crowd like this?
Under different circumstances, the mix would have made for a terrific party. Oscar de la Renta, Carl Bernstein, Roger Ailes, Barbara Walters, Charlie Rose, Lucianne Goldberg, Larry Tisch, Dominick Dunne, Mort Zuckerman. And if all the pomp and celebrity weren't enough to give the impression that this was the New York equivalent of a state funeral, there was the endless parade of estimable speakers: Rupert Murdoch, Pat Moynihan, Al D'Amato, George Pataki, Rudy Giuliani, Ed Koch, Henry Kissinger. A statement from Benjamin Netanyahu was read by Israel's U.N. ambassador.
But this was more than just a showy cavalcade of power. There was real drama and pathos. The emotion expressed by these armor-plated tough guys was breathtaking. Giuliani, looking right at Breindel's family when he spoke, was on the verge of tears. Everyone talked about loyalty and bravery and character. "Who else in this city," a visibly shaken Murdoch asked the crowd, "could bring together so many people from so many walks of life and so many ideological camps?" Moynihan, who had been one of Breindel's professors at Harvard, said he'd "taught Eric for two years and learned from him for twenty."
Breindel died of liver failure on March 7 last year, after six days in New York Hospital. He was only 42. While his health had been a chronic problem since his late teens -- he took terrible care of himself and lived on burgers, fries, and unfiltered Camels -- his death was an enormous shock to his friends and colleagues.
In the front row of the 72-year-old synagogue, with its majestic three-story stained-glass dome, sat his frail, aging parents, Holocaust survivors now forced to bury their young son. Norman Podhoretz, the pioneering neocon who'd been one of Breindel's mentors for more than two decades, quaked when he spoke. "I am tempted to rant like Jeremiah or Job at the injustice of it, and to demand an accounting by God," he said, "for breaking all our hearts by shortening Eric Breindel's days on this earth."
Bobby Kennedy Jr., a classmate at Harvard and the London School of Economics, poignantly remembered their school days. Eric unshaven in a black leather jacket. Eric as a socialist. Eric competing for the affections of a girl. Kennedy also talked about loyalty. "I come from a family that puts a high premium on that virtue," he said. "When my brother Michael died over Christmas, one of the first voices on my answering machine was Eric's. His message was simple: 'Tell me where I have to be and when.' "
All of the speakers, even the pols, kept to the imposed three-to-four-minute time limit. Except Marty Peretz. Distraught over the loss of his friend and unhappy about sharing the moment, the Harvard professor and owner of The New Republic went on for nearly half an hour. When he finished, people were literally fleeing. Pete Hamill whispered to Post columnist Jack Newfield, "Marty Peretz can empty a synagogue faster than a PLO bomb threat."
"The funeral," says Newfield today, "was like a strange competition among Eric's mentors."
And then there were the women. In attendance were his ex-wife, ex-lover, and girlfriend. The ex-wife was journalist Tamar Jacoby (Someone Else's House), who hadn't spoken to him in nearly ten years. The ex-lover was Lally Weymouth, the Washington Post heiress and columnist. They were together for almost a decade but split a little more than a year before his death. And the girlfriend during his last twelve months was Nancy Bacher, who was his assistant at the Post.