Jeffrey Zaslow, a Wall Street Journal reporter with a flair for inspirational stories who produced three nonfiction bestsellers, beginning with the 2008 book “The Last Lecture” about life lessons from a dying man, was killed in a car crash Friday. He was 53.
Zaslow’s death was announced on the website of Detroit’s Fox 2 News, where his wife, Sherry Margolis, is an anchor. Zaslow was driving on a snow-covered highway in northern Michigan when he lost control and was hit by a truck.
A journalist for more than three decades, Zaslow had written three books before breaking into the bestseller ranks with “The Last Lecture.” He wrote the book with Randy Pausch, a terminally ill professor whose farewell speech at Carnegie Mellon became an Internet sensation after Zaslow posted a video clip online with a Wall Street Journal article he had written about the talk.
“The Last Lecture” — published three months before Pausch’s death from cancer in 2008 — has sold more than 5 million copies in English and was translated into 48 languages.
Zaslow followed with two more bestsellers: “Highest Duty,” co-written with Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot hailed as a hero after calmly landing his disabled passenger jet in New York’s Hudson River and saving 155 lives; and “The Girls From Ames,” a chronicle of the friendship shared by 11 women from rural Iowa. Both were published in 2009.
“I’m interested in people’s deepest, sharpest emotions,” the author said in 2010 in the Patriot Ledger of Quincy, Mass. “That’s what I like writing about. Life’s transitions are very emotional.”
Born in Philadelphia on Oct. 6, 1958, Zaslow was a 1980 graduate of Carnegie Mellon, where he studied creative writing. He began his career as a feature writer for the Orlando Sentinel, leaving in 1983 to join the Wall Street Journal as a columnist.
One of his most memorable Journal pieces concerned a Chicago Sun-Times contest to select a successor to advice columnist Ann Landers. Zaslow decided that the best way to research the story was to enter the competition. Out of 12,000 applicants, he was chosen to share the column with Diane Crowley, daughter of the original Ann Landers.
He wrote the advice column for 14 years, until he returned to the Journal in 2001. He also wrote “Gabby” (2011), a book about Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who survived an assassin’s bullet to the head.
Zaslow, who lived in the Detroit area, was traveling this week to promote his latest book, “The Magic Room,” a nonfiction narrative set in a small-town Michigan bridal shop that follows the lives of a handful of brides and their parents.
A self-described “girly man,” Zaslow was the father of three daughters: Jordan, 22; Alex, 20; and Eden, 16, who survive him along with his wife.
His love for his daughters, he said, was the reason he wrote “The Magic Room.” But his book with Pausch was the one that he said changed his life.
Zaslow often emailed the dying professor with the reactions the story was stirring on various Internet sites. “I’d send him all these links about his story and he’d say, ‘Stop Googling me and go hug your kids,’” Zaslow recalled in the Indianapolis Star in 2009. “I hope I can be as brave as he was.”