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John Callahan, Equal Opportunity Offender

Willamette Week / Thomas Cobb

John Callahan, Equal Opportunity Offender

Cartoonist, musician, author, quadriplegic, and Portland fixture John Callahan died July 24, 2010, at age 59.

An adopted child with five siblings, Callahan said he was molested during his youth and began drinking heavily in his early teens. The binge that changed his life happened when he was 21 years old and was involved in a car wreck that left him a C5-6 quadriplegic.

Angry and directionless, he continued drinking heavily for the next seven years. After joining AA, he slowly started piecing his life together and began attending classes at Portland University. It was there he first began create cartoons. Though his drawings were crude (he had to clutch the pen between his two hands as he’d lost use of his fingers), many loved his wicked, fearless sense of humor. At the peak of his career, his cartoons were appearing in nearly 100 publications nationwide.

An equal opportunity offender, Callahan created cartoons that resulted in many a letter to the editor. He was behind two animated TV series – “Pelswick,” a children’s show about a boy in a wheelchair, and “Quads,” a decidedly un-PC show that aired for a time on Adult Swim. Callahan also authored 10 books, including the autobiography “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.” Actor Robin Williams optioned the book with an eye toward portraying Callahan, but the project has been in development limbo for years.

Callahan died following surgery for chronic bed sores. According to his brother the causes of his death were complications of quadriplegia and respiratory problems.

UPDATE: In November 2016, Variety reported that Joaquin Phoenix and Gus Van Sant were teaming up to make a film about Callahan with Phoenix starring as the cartoonist.