Ron Curran, a dogged, award-winning investigator and unblushing idealist who helped establish the L.A. Weekly’s reputation for hard-edged, relevant local reporting, died this week at 43 in his Huntington Beach home.
Curran chased down stories for the West Coast alternative press when the alternative press was young. He matured along with it, distinguishing the medium with highly regarded, necessary work, but never becoming corporate or comfortable. He left the Weekly to work at the San Francisco Bay Guardian, then later founded a short-lived Bay Area zine before starting an ongoing alternative wire service.
“We’ve lost somebody who really believed in what the alternative-press community was founded on,” said longtime friend and collaborator Kurt Thomas. “He held on to that attitude of ‘Fuck-’em-all, we’re sticking to our ideals and we’re going to print what we want to print.’”
Curran, a Connecticut native, spent 10 years at the Weekly from about 1983 to 1993, right out of journalism school at USC, where he’d started off pursuing a law degree. Curran deserves particular credit for making the Weekly a must-read on the downtown bureaucracy, where he took on the Community Redevelopment Agency, the county supervisors, the police department and the mass-transit system. He also faced off with the Church of Scientology and slumlords.
“Ron had a wonderful passion for going after investigative stories, for stories about the abuse of power, for stories where there was an underdog,” said former Weekly editor Jay Levin, who helped found the paper. “Ron always had the guts of someone who wanted to go after the bad guy. He was politically naive when he came here and didn’t at first put things in a broader context. So he had to be educated, but he got better at it.”
So much better that by the time Curran moved to San Francisco, he was regarded as a consummate professional. “Ron was one of the best writers and reporters I ever worked with,” said Tim Redmond, executive editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian. “And he was the greatest guy to work for and work with.”
Curran left the Guardian to start Bang!, an edgy zine that published the work of new and little-known talents. A bar owner put up money to get it going, but the mag couldn’t make it in the slow economy. His story service, Pulp Syndicate, has been a struggling but going concern. It’s provided reprints and original stories to small-market alternative papers, again focusing on the work of emerging talents.
Curran’s death has the mark of a bad break after a tough time. For about four years, he’d been caring for his ailing father, who died in August. But Curran, a legendary drinker, wasn’t keeping track of his own health. The internal bleeding that apparently killed him might have been treatable.
Curran sure could enjoy a Pabst Blue Ribbon, a blues band and a dive bar, but it wasn’t in his makeup to look inward for something other than a cause to champion. What he cared about was friends’ well-being, about the fate of civilization, about stories that needed to be told.