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Jerry Klein came home to die, not make a comeback

07/11/2014 10:48 AM

07/11/2014 10:49 AM

In 2001, Creative Loafing columnist Jerry Klein left Charlotte to pursue romance. In 2013, he returned to die.

Neither quite worked out as he’d expected.

Klein, 62, who grew up in Charlotte and was a talk-show host on WBT-AM (1110) in the 1990s, has started writing again for Creative Loafing, the city’s alternative newsweekly. He had written 365 columns over a decade before his departure and his last said he was looking forward to an adventure.

He moved to Washington to see if he and his teenage sweetheart had a future together. They got married in 2003. He found work at WMAL-AM, the city’s Rush Limbaugh station, where he was known as the “pet liberal.”

He left the station in 2009 for part-time work and developed health problems in 2011. He was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, then non-alcohol-related fatty acid cirrhosis of the liver.

Two weeks after that, he found his wife, Lois Groner Klein, who had heart problems, dead in their apartment. “In the matter of a few weeks, I’m told I’m about to die, and I find her dead in the bathroom.”

Soon he was depressed, exhausted, wiped out financially and facing eviction. He came back to Charlotte in 2013. “Friends offered me a spare bedroom in Mint Hill,” Klein says. “I dragged myself home to Charlotte thinking I had months to live.”

Here, he slowly regained strength. He went on public assistance and Medicaid. Then things started turning around.

His oncologist told him that his cancer appeared to be arrested. Then his liver disease stabilized.

“It’s severely damaged, but I’m not quite sick enough to get on a transplant list,” Klein says. “Best I can hope for is to ameliorate any further damage. I take care of myself best I can and I leave the rest up to whatever power runs things. ... Without getting too far out there – whoo whoo – I’m a walking miracle.”

Now Klein is back writing and blogging for Creative Loafing. He’s working on a cover story about the problem Charlotte has paying for the arts. Another piece he has in mind is about who is leading the city now.

“Not a single day goes by that somebody doesn’t come up to me somewhere in town and say to me, ‘Are you Jerry Klein?’ Then I start laughing and I cover my face and say, ‘Before I answer you, is that a good thing or a bad thing?’ ”

It’s usually a good thing. Klein says he always felt like an outsider in Charlotte. He was born in Philadelphia and moved here at age 3.

A Northern transplant, a Jew and an outspoken liberal, he wasn’t sure he fit in.

“I was mostly told I didn’t. Now I know I am home. And that’s been a real revelation. I wasn’t sure about that before.”

Media movers

At WJZY (Channel 46), Jenna Caiazzo moves up to weekend anchor as Cheryl Brayboy focuses on education and big-picture stories on community issues and solutions. … Anniversary of note: Amy Lehtonen marks 15 years at WCNC (Channel 36), where she is digital media director. …

After 54 years of broadcasting, Barney Hall officially retired Sunday from the Motor Racing Network following the Coke Zero 400. Hall, 82, began covering the sport in the late 1950s and has been on the air for all but three Daytona 500s since 1960. In retirement, he will do features for MRN. … Gov. Pat McCrory is scheduled as an hourlong guest on Mike Collins’ “Charlotte Talks” at 9 a.m. Monday on WFAE-FM (NPR, 90.7).

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