Don Wright, Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist, dead at 90

Don Wright

Don Wright, an editorial cartoonist who won two Pulitzer Prizes for his pointed wit, died at his Florida home on March 24, his wife said Sunday. He was 90.

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Wright died at his home in Palm Beach, Florida, The New York Times reported. His death was confirmed by his wife and fellow journalist, Carolyn Wright, according to the newspaper.

During his 45-year career, Wright drew more than 11,000 cartoons for The Miami News until it folded in 1988, and The Palm Beach Post, where he remained until his retirement in 2008, the Times reported.

His cartoons were nationally syndicated, first by The Washington Star, then by The New York Times and Tribune Media Services, according to the newspaper.

Wright won both of his Pulitzers while drawing for the News.

He won his first Pulitzer Prize in 1966 for a cartoon commenting on the nuclear arms race, “You Mean You Were Bluffing?” The drawing showed two men in tatters meeting one another on a cratered landscape created by bombs.

The day after winning the award, Wright received a telegram from Alabama Gov. George Wallace, the Times reported.

“Sometimes even the meanest cartoonists are unaccountably decorated for their work,” Wallace’s telegram read. “If the shoe fits, wear it.”

Wright kept the telegram framed in his home, according to the newspaper.

Wright won his second Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning with the News in 1980.

That cartoon showed two Florida prison guards carrying a corpse from the electric chair, the Times reported.

“Why did the governor say we’re doing this?” one guard asked.

“To make it clear we value human life,” the other guard said.

Wright was also a Pulitzer finalist five times.

He said his favorite cartoon was one he drew after the death of Walt Disney in 1966. The cartoon showed Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters crying, according to the Times.

Disney’s widow, Lillian Disney, requested Wright’s original drawing for the cartoon. When she died in 1997, Lillian Disney bequeathed the drawing to the Library of Congress.

Donald Conway Wright was born on Jan. 23, 1934, in Los Angeles to Charles and Evelyn Olberg Wright, according to the newspaper.

His family moved to Florida when Wright was a child. After graduating from high school in 1952, he applied for a job in the News’ art department, the Times reported.

The newspaper hired him as a photographer instead, and he captured classic images of a triumphant Fidel Castro entering Havana, Elvis Presley, Cassius Clay (now known as Muhammad Ali) in a Miami Beach gym and then-Sen. John F. Kennedy in a hotel room wearing a suit jacket, tie and boxer shorts, according to the newspaper.

By the 1960s, Wright was transferred to the art department as a graphics editor, and his cartoons began appearing on the News’ editorial pages by 1963.

In 1989 he was hired by the Post, which, like the News, was owned by Cox Newspapers.

Wright admitted that many of his cartoons had a punchline, but he was not necessarily trying to be funny.

“I’m sometimes baffled by the number of readers who believe that cartoons should be lightweight and entertainingly ‘funny,’” Wright said in an interview after his retirement. “Humor has a lot of relatives -- wry, subtle, slapstick and even black -- all aimed at the endless Iraq War, inept and corrupt politicians, rising unemployment, recession, Americans losing their homes, and on and on.

“But think about it for a moment. How funny are those?”

In addition to his wife, Wright’s survivors include a younger brother, David, the Times reported.

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