BIRMINGHAM, Mich. – Mike Lupica moved his tie out of the way and undid a few buttons of his dress shirt to reveal a simple black T-shirt that read: “Not now. I’m writing.”
It was a replica of the shirt his late friend and fellow author Elmore Leonard was wearing in the photo that graced the back cover of the program for Saturday’s funeral Mass.
“I gave him that shirt,” Lupica, a sportswriter and columnist, said after the service at Holy Name Church in Birmingham. “Everything that he was was in that picture.”
Lupica was among the dozens of friends, family and fans who paid their final respects to the award-winning crime novelist during a service that was equal parts laughter and tears. Leonard, 87, died Tuesday at his home in Bloomfield Township from complications of a stroke he suffered a few weeks ago.
Son Peter Leonard, himself an established author, elicited more than a few chuckles during his eulogy, remembering how his father “always got stopped” at airport checkpoints for trying to carry various items, ranging from scissors and shampoo to an excessive amount of athlete’s foot powder.
There was the time the elder Leonard ran out of underwear during a trip to Italy. And, always, there was his enjoyment in interacting with his fans. “His favorite letters were from convicts,” Peter Leonard said to laughs.
Another son, Christopher Leonard, joked about the “biting sarcasm” that his father had genetically bestowed upon his kids and grandkids, seven of whom (plus a great-grandson) served as pallbearers Saturday.
Bill Leonard, meanwhile, chose to remember a different aspect about his father.
“Everyone knows that Elmore was a great writer,” he said. “But only a few of us know that he was a great father — funny, patient and incredibly generous.”
Leonard was the winner of an honorary National Book Award in 2012, and his millions of fans made best-sellers out of pretty much every one of his books since 1985’s “Glitz.”
Leonard, who wrote Westerns for years before hitting it big in the crime genre, also was a favorite of Hollywood, which adapted his work into dozens of movies and TV shows, including the films “Out of Sight” and “Get Shorty” and the FX drama “Justified,” for which Leonard was an executive producer.
“Raylan,” published in 2012, now stands as his final novel. Leonard had been at work on a new book called “Blue Dreams” that again would have featured Raylan Givens, the recurring Stetson-wearing U.S. marshal.
“Justified” star Timothy Olyphant attended the funeral, which he described as “lovely.” Olyphant said he was a “huge fan” of Leonard’s books and that he “felt very blessed to have known him.”
In addition to the program, funeral attendees were handed a small card that listed Leonard’s “10 Rules of Writing,” which long have been quoted by aspiring authors. Among the rules: “Never open a book with weather,” “never use a verb other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue” and “try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”
A number of speakers Saturday referenced the list during their remarks, including Lupica.
“I’m going to leave out the parts that a dear friend of mine would have expected me to skip,” he said before reading a New Testament verse.
Following the service, Leonard, who served as a Navy seaman during World War II, was given military honors, which including the playing of taps and a flag-folding ceremony.
He lived “a great American life,” Lupica said.