Larger-than-life Nashville politician Hooker dead at 85

CHANGES YEAR TO 2016 NOT 2015 - FILE - In this Aug. 20, 2015 file photo, John Jay Hooker sits outside his retirement home apartment in Nashville, Tenn. Hooker, a large figure in Tennessee politics who once worked as special counsel to Robert Kennedy, spent his last days fighting to make physician-assisted suicide legal in Tennessee. Hooker died Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Nashville. He was 85. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A family friend said larger-than-life Nashville political figure John Jay Hooker Jr., who spent his last days fighting to make physician-assisted suicide legal in Tennessee, died on Sunday at 85.

Political strategist Tom Ingram said he received a message from one of Hooker’s daughters that Hooker had died in hospice. He had been suffering from metastatic melanoma.

Hooker had brilliant successes early in life as an attorney. Tapped in 1958 to prosecute the impeachment of a Chattanooga judge accused of accepting bribes from racketeers, he fell into the orbit of Robert Kennedy, who was investigating the Teamsters union. Hooker later worked as special counsel to Kennedy after he became U.S. attorney general, even living in Kennedy’s house for a time.

Hooker was one of the original investors in Hospital Corporation of America, a chairman of STP Corp., part-owner and publisher of the Nashville Banner, and briefly chairman of wire service United Press International.

He was also a socialite once named to an international list of the best dressed men in the world.

Hooker was a serious Democratic contender for governor in 1966 and the party’s nominee for governor in the 1970 and 1998 races. Many in Nashville remember him for the spectacular success and sudden failure of his Minnie Pearl’s Fried Chicken franchise. The company’s demise was used against him in the 1970 campaign, and Hooker was bothered for the rest of his life by the idea that some people thought fraud played a role in the company’s downfall.

Hooker, who had aspirations to become president, always blamed President Richard Nixon for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s scrutiny of his business.

In the 1990s, Hooker earned the moniker “gadfly” in the press after he began running repeatedly for political office as a platform to file lawsuits challenging campaign financing. He also began filing suits that challenged judicial appointments, keeping at it for nearly two decades despite losing battle after battle. He eventually earned a 30-day suspension of his law license for “frivolous litigation.”

Last year, Hooker was diagnosed with cancer and given six months to live. He said the diagnosis was a jolt that transformed his life and gave him a new sense of purpose when he took up the cause of physician-assisted suicide. He pursued the fight to make it legal both in the Legislature and in the courts but did not succeed before his death.

Former Kentucky Gov. John Y. Brown, who was co-owner and CEO of Kentucky Fried Chicken, was also Hooker’s good friend. Speaking of Hooker on Sunday, Brown said, “I think John, in so many ways, lived a life of regret. But at the same time, he had a tremendous impact on the people who came his way. He had a terrific talent and a very imaginative vibe. … He was a man always chasing whatever the next dream was.”

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Erik Schelzig contributed to this report.



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