[UPDATED] Trentonian copy editor whose career ended over ‘Roasted Nuts’ headline dies at 59

The headline that ended a journalist’s career

Tony Persichilli, who received unwanted national attention a decade ago for this ROASTED NUTS headline on a story about a psychiatric hospital fire in Trenton, N.J., died Wednesday after battling cancer. He was 59.

The copy editor and columnist left the Trentonian after apologizing a decade ago for the headline that, according to his obit, he did not write. I assume he just approved it. [See the update below] Does anyone have more information? Please let me know.

One of Persichilli’s friends tells the Trentonian that the flap over the headline threw the newsman into a depression that he never recovered from.

“He loved to write,” says the friend, former Mercer County Executive Bob Prunetti. “That’s what he was about. He wrote a couple of books that never were published. He’s got a few manuscripts out there.”

Persichilli wrote in his apology:

I didn’t do it to be mean-spirited. I didn’t intend to hurt anybody’s feelings, upset anyone’s sensibilities or make fun of anyone’s handicaps.

But obviously I did.

I was wrong.

Because, as my management team and the many readers who called, faxed and e-mailed to express their outrage and displeasure pointed out, the headline was inaccurate (no one actually got burned) and insensitive (mental illness is nothing to be made fun of).

They were right.

I was wrong…

John Strausbaugh was sympathetic to Persichilli. He wrote in a New York Press column:

What copy editor at any smalltown newspaper, faced with the often dull and usually daunting chore of dreaming up yet another pithy hed for the umpteenth-million police blotter dispatch on a fire at the orphanage, the busload of schoolkids coming back from choir practice that ran off a bridge, the small plane that crashed through the roof of the bingo hall full of senior citizens, has not fantasized that they were at the New York Post in the good old days?

* Former Trentonian columnist Tony Persichilli dies at 59 (trentonian.com)
* National Alliance for the Mentally Ill criticizes “Roasted Nuts” hed (NAMI)
* It was a “gem” of a headline, according to John Strausbaugh (nypress.com)

UPDATE: Charlie Webster writes

“The real story about the ROASTED NUTS headline was that Tony took the fall for it because he was a stand-up guy and a straight shooter but he was not a rat. Another “copy editor” wrote it as a joke and moved it over to Tony who didn’t flinch because he figured this guy (somewhat a superior) felt it was good because he put it there … so off it went all the way to the doorsteps of readers.

“Tony was a great writer, editor and all-around super guy to know and I’m honored to have been his colleague.”