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Originally published May 10, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 10, 2009 at 1:15 AM

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Obituary

"Funniest guy in the room" told whimsical TV stories

Writer and Emmy-award-winning television reporter Greg Palmer started penning stories when he was 6 years old and didn't stop even after he was told he had less than a year to live.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Writer and Emmy-award-winning television reporter Greg Palmer started penning stories when he was 6 years old and didn't stop even after he was told he had less than a year to live.

His most recent book, "Cheese Deluxe: A Memoir," a collection of short stories about a group of characters who frequented a popular burger joint on his native Mercer Island in the '60s, was published in December, after he learned he had terminal lung cancer.

Mr. Palmer, who died Friday, May 8, at 61, was not exactly a stranger to death. He once wrote his own obituary for The Seattle Times, a tongue-in-cheek piece to promote his four-part 1993 documentary on death, dying and grief in cultures across the world.

A television writer and commentator on KING-TV during the station's "golden age" in the '80s, he was perhaps best known for witty and whimsical on-air pieces about odd topics, culture and art, former colleagues said.

His vignettes covered a range of topics from the differences between Republican and Democratic caucuses to the veracity of advertising claims.

Mr. Palmer was "certainly not your typical TV guy," said close friend and former KING-TV colleague Lucy Mohl. Bald and paunchy, Mr. Palmer looked more like a character actor than a well-coifed TV talking head.

"Funny-looking guy"

When he first walked into the KING-TV newsroom in 1977 to apply for a job as the station's art reviewer, "Everybody said, 'Who the heck is this?' " said Bill Fenster, a former cameraman who became Mr. Palmer's lifelong friend and collaborator.

"The impression was this is a funny-looking guy who should not be on TV," Fenster said.

But the station gave Mr. Palmer a chance, and his innovation made an impression.

For a review of a movie with numerous ups and downs, Mr. Palmer reported from a roller coaster. In another piece on water ballet, he donned a bathing suit and "let his gut hang out" while doing his own performance, Fenster said.

Mr. Palmer also won nationwide acclaim for his numerous books, plays and documentaries that covered a range of topics, from war and death to video games and vaudeville.

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"He was an amazingly gifted and prolific writer," Fenster said. "He told stories with meaning and direction and poetry. He gave his subjects dignity and respect."

Among the highlights of Mr. Palmer's career were the public-television documentary on death, dying and grief called "Death: The Trip of a Lifetime," and a play called "The Falcon," based on a Georgian fairy tale and produced as part of the 1990 Goodwill Games, said his wife of 41 years, Cathy Palmer.

Cathy Palmer said her husband was especially proud of his documentary "Vaudeville: An American Masters Special," because he loved the subject matter and because the project documented the careers of many people who died shortly after the film was finished.

Mr. Palmer started his broadcasting career at KTW Radio in Seattle, where his five-minute satirical sketches earned him the Peabody Award. He also won 13 Emmys during his 13 years at KING-TV.

Over the years, he did stints at KRAB Radio, KIRO-TV and KCTS-TV, and wrote freelance pieces for local publications, including Northwest Week, The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Mr. Palmer's professional accomplishments as a reporter, writer and producer will be honored with a lifetime achievement award at the 46th annual Northwest Emmy Awards later this month.

Mr. Palmer was born on Mercer Island in May 1947 to attorney Harvard Palmer and his wife Gertrude, a homemaker. He had an older brother, Harvard "Pete" Palmer Jr., who remembers his younger brother writing his first book at the tender age of 6.

"It was very clear very early on what an amazing talent he had," said Pete Palmer, of Oakland, Calif.

In "Cheese Deluxe," Mr. Palmer describes falling in love with Cathy while they were both seniors in high school.

"He was always the funniest guy in the room," Cathy Crosetto Palmer said.

Both attended the University of Washington, where Greg Palmer was a theater major.

"He always had a dramatic flair and intended to become an actor until he realized he didn't have the chops to make it as a professional," she said. "He then veered into something where he could achieve at the highest level."

Father of two sons

In addition to his professional success, relatives and friends said, he succeeded as a husband and as a father to his two sons, Ira Palmer, 30, and Ned Palmer, 27, both of Seattle.

"He was an utterly wonderful man and the best, most fabulously devoted father you can imagine," Cathy Palmer said.

For the last three years of his life, Greg Palmer took his younger son, who has Down syndrome, to play trivia games every week.

The two of them were a veritable powerhouse of information, she said, and they flattened the competition of "frat boys and young Turks."

"They were world-class," she said.

Mr. Palmer will be remembered in a private ceremony this fall, his relatives said.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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