William Whitworth, Revered Writer and Editor, Is Dead at 87

William Whitworth, who wrote revealing profiles in The New Yorker giving voice to his idiomatic subjects and polished the prose of some of the nation’s celebrated writers as its associate editor before transplanting that magazine’s painstaking standards to The Atlantic, where he was editor in chief for 20 years, died on Friday in Conway, Ark., near Little Rock. He was 87.

His daughter, Katherine Whitworth Stewart, announced the death. She said he was being treated after several falls and operations in a hospital.

As a young college graduate, Mr. Whitworth forsook a promising career as a jazz trumpeter to do a different kind of improvisation as a journalist.

He covered breaking news for The Arkansas Gazette and later for The New York Herald Tribune, where his colleagues eventually included some of the most exhilarating voices in American journalism, among them Dick Schaap, Jimmy Breslin and Tom Wolfe.

In 1966, William Shawn, The New Yorker’s decorous but dictatorial editor, wooed Mr. Whitworth to the venerated weekly. He took the job although he had already accepted one at The New York Times.

At The New Yorker, he injected wit into pensive “Talk of the Town” vignettes. He also profiled the famous and the not so famous, including the jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie and Charles Mingus (accompanied by photos from his former Herald Tribune colleague Jill Krementz) and the foreign policy adviser Eugene V. Rostow. He expanded his profile of Mr. Rostow into a 1970 book, “Naïve Questions About War and Peace.”

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