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Originally published July 25, 2010 at 6:49 PM | Page modified July 25, 2010 at 7:08 PM

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John Callahan, 59, Portland cartoonist and musician dies

John Callahan, a Portland cartoonist and musician, has died at age 59 on Saturday after a lengthy hospital stay. Callahan was best known for cartoons that stepped beyond the boundaries of political correctness and have appeared in nearly 100 newspapers and magazines.

PORTLAND — John Callahan, a Portland cartoonist and musician, has died at age 59.

David Milholland, a longtime friend, said Callahan died Saturday after a lengthy hospital stay.

Callahan was best known for cartoons that stepped beyond the boundaries of political correctness and have appeared in nearly 100 newspapers and magazines.

"He was a loyal friend to a whole lot of very talented and unsung people," Milholland said.

Callahan, a quadriplegic since a traffic accident at age 21, also was the author of 10 books including an autobiography called, "Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot: The Autobiography of a Dangerous Man."

The Oregonian says actor Robin Williams bought the rights to a movie based on the book, but it has never been produced.

Callahan's cartoons appeared in Pacific Northwest, The Seattle Times' Sunday magazine, for more than 20 years.

"Callahan's humor could be both pointed and poignant as he took on life's harsh realities, perhaps because he faced his own harsh realities," said Kathleen Triesch Saul, the magazine's associate editor.

"His personal struggles never seemed to affect his funnybone, however. The guy could make you laugh out loud."

Callahan had numerous other roles, including songwriter, English teacher, filmmaker and creator of two animated television shows. He campaigned in 1996 for a Republican seat in the Oregon House of Representatives before health issues interrupted his run.

"He offended a lot of handicapped people, and they wrote nasty letters to the editor not knowing that Callahan himself was tragically handicapped," said Bill Plympton, a two-time Oscar-nominated animator who was among the first to see Callahan's drawings.

Callahan's health was declining in recent months, but he never lost his sense of humor, friends said.

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Kelley Baker, a Portland-based filmmaker, worked with Callahan on the 1993 award-winning animated short film, "I Think I Was an Alcoholic." The film is Callahan's account of his years of hard drinking, the car accident that paralyzed him and becoming sober.

Baker said he last spoke with Callahan about a year ago.

"His health was always an issue," Baker said. "But the last time I saw him he seemed like his usual self, making jokes about all sorts of stuff, being his usual politically incorrect self."

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