Know ye that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in the Bronx. Vincent Musetto, writer behind the greatest headline in the history of journalism, has died at 74.
Almost all headlines evaporate from memory. The rare, “Dewey Defeats Truman” exceptions are often notable for conveying flat-wrongness. But on April 15, 1983, a snow leopard appeared in black and white on the header of the New York Post. “Headless Body In Topless Bar.”
This is an inspired flash of brilliance that might be the only tabloid headline that most Americans can quote. Just look at that jewel. Decapitation, sex, booze, surprise, and straight-faced humor all packed tighter than a hobo’s last cigarette. Those five little words! It makes “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.” look like a filibuster. The Pythagorean theorem is flabby by comparison. The true tale of that corpse will never match the one the headline evokes in your imagination. Musetto’s Post colleague would compare the scene that night at the copy desk to an oil painting of the founding fathers huddled around the Declaration of Independence.
Fellini had La Dolce Vita. R. Kelly had “Ignition.” The Post had this. As the Internet continues to bury newspaper publishing, it’s looking more and more like Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game, a record from another era, set during a time now so bygone that it will never be threatened, a benchmark eternal.
Musetto officially retired in 2011, though he continued to freelance movie reviews until 2013, when an editor emailed him that the budget was too tight to pay him $100 a pop for two write-ups a month. That bit has somehow been omitted from the Post’s own story on Musetto’s passing, but at least they’re acknowledging his moment of perfection.