The man was 70 years old, after all it is possible that he just, in fact, decided it was time to put down his pen.
But nothing's ever quite that simple where Jerry Berger is concerned and so, even though his last regular column appeared in the Sunday paper on March 28, speculation continues to bubble up about the departure of the Post-Dispatch writer-we-loved-to-hate. Various reasons were bandied about for the Bergermeister's departure, from "it's just time" to unspecified health concerns to columnist rivalry (though we can't imagine him shying away from a good throwdown with dishy Deb Peterson) and even a juicy subplot involving an uprising of hacked-off restaurant workers who were mad as hell and weren't going to take it anymore. Berger long renowned for his bad restaurant behavior, flouting of nonsmoking rules and amazing ability to eat well and never pay a dime had recently stirred up the help again, and the RFT briefly pursued a quest to collect the most egregious examples of his loutish behavior, spurred on by restaurateur Andy Ayers. (That probably lasted about right up until their lawyers got wind of it.) All of it would've made a delicious note on Jerry's cuff, but alas, there is no watching the watchers.
In any case, the March column brought to an end a 20-year career of serving up society prattle, City Hall's inside baseball and even, occasionally, news to the readers of the Post; prior to that, Berger had written a similar column for the Globe-Democrat (not the hokey, faux-historical version at your local Schnucks, but the real deal) and spent time shilling for stars at Paramount, MGM and 20th Century Fox.
Just as noteworthy as the items he brought to readers' attention were the, um, contributions he made to the English language. He wrote up Berger Bits, scooplettes, "notes on my cuff," "lint in my cuff," triviata, sight'ems and more. A whole new lexicon marking life's milestones developed as the crème de la crème of the Lou (a moniker, by the way, he left wholly within Deb P.'s purview) got ringed, had pourings and were infanticipating. Borrowing the language was just too tempting for many aspiring schmooze-hounds around town...the columnist, who liked to refer to himself as such, reached as far down as the tiniest neighborhood publication: Hilda Willman, then editor of the Soulard Renaissance, penned "Soulard Snippets," asking, "Don't we all secretly hanker to be Jerry Berger?"
Maybe, or maybe not. He was alternately admired and despised, feared and loathed...but the hits, they just kept coming. Even some of his biggest detractors scanned the column inches to make sure they weren't without a snappy tidbit that might make the rounds of their e-mail circles or happy hour crowd.
Now we're counting on the news-and-schmooze from Peterson, and though she fills the space admirably, you kind of think she'll have to be at it for at least ten more years before she's accorded the "institution" status her predecessor enjoyed. In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled out there for The Columnist: we want to know who, out of habit, is still whispering in his ear.