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Wilfrid Sheed dies at 80; novelist and essayist

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Novelist and essayist Wilfrid Sheed, an English-born American satirical writer known for tackling jazz, baseball and journalism in fictional and nonfictional accounts, died Wednesday at a nursing home in Massachusetts. He was 80.

The cause was an infection called urosepsis, said his stepdaughter Phoebe Alexis Ungerer. She said he also had battled cancer of the mouth.

Sheed recently had moved from a Long Island nursing home to one near Ungerer's home in Great Barrington, Mass.

Born in London on Dec. 27, 1930, to prominent Catholic publishers, Sheed wrote novels, memoirs, biographies and criticism for diverse publications. Over his long career he wrote about a broad range of subjects, from characters wrestling with their Roman Catholic beliefs to his own battles with disease and addiction in his 1995 memoir, "In Love With Daylight: A Memory of Recovery."

His novels, which often contained autobiographical elements, included "A Middle Class Education," "The Blacking Factory & Pennsylvania Gothic," "Office Politics," "The Hack," "Max Jamison," "The Boys of Winter" and "Transatlantic Blues."

He wrote about baseball not only in "The Boys of Winter," but also in his 1993 memoir "My Life as a Fan" and in a collection of essays, "Baseball and Lesser Sports."

Sheed turned to the biography in "Clare Booth Luce" and "Frank & Maisie: A Memoir With Parents," and he wrote criticism for Sports Illustrated, Esquire, the New York Times Book Review and others.

His last book, "The House That George Built: With a Little Help From Irving, Cole and a Crew of About Fifty," was published in 2007 and was billed as a history of American popular music.

When he was a child, Sheed's family moved from England to escape World War II and settled in Philadelphia. He contracted polio as a teenager and later returned to England to attend Lincoln College in Oxford, where he earned bachelor's and master's degrees.

He is survived by his second wife, Miriam Ungerer Sheed, who lived with him for many years on Long Island. He also is survived by a sister, Rosemary Luke Sheed Middleton; three children from his first marriage to Maria Bulitt Darlington that ended in divorce; two stepdaughters; and four grandchildren.

Sheed's family said his last wish was to have his headstone engraved with the words, "He wrote some good sentences."

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