OCALA, Fla. - Eddie Clontz, who for 20 years was considered king of the supermarket tabloids as editor of the Weekly World News, has died of complications from diabetes. He was 56.
Clontz died Monday in Salt Spring, near Ocala. He left the Lantana-based tabloid three years ago.
As editor of the Weekly World News, Clontz announced that Elvis was still alive, reported that a dozen U.S. senators were from another planet, found the lost continent of Atlantis near Buffalo, N.Y., and uncovered a "bat boy" living in a West Virginia cave.
Unlike most editors, Clontz advised his staff not to be too skeptical, once telling them: "Never question yourself out of a good story. You have got to know when to stop asking questions."
"I think every journalist in the United States secretly envied Eddie Clontz. I did," said Washington Post humor columnist Gene Weingarten, who was a friend of Clontz.
"Here was a man who simply refused, as a matter of principle, to allow truth to get in the way of a great story."
A 10th-grade dropout from North Carolina, Clontz was hired at the Weekly World News in 1981. He had previously worked as a wire editor for the now defunct Evening Independent in St. Petersburg.
Clontz, who had spent some time studying the history of sensational newspaper reporting, remade the Weekly World News into what he called "the last true tabloid in America," with barely believable tales like: "BLIND MAN REGAINS SIGHT AND DUMPS UGLY WIFE!"
Clontz's impact on pop culture showed up in television shows like X-Files and movies like Men in Black, which both suggested that the News' wildest tabloid tales were real. The tale of Bat Boy became a popular Off-Broadway musical. In 1992, when the News announced that a visiting space alien had endorsed Bill Clinton, incumbent President George Bush said he was disappointed.
"We don't know whether the stories are true, and we don't really care," Clontz once said. "When we inform people, it's usually an accident."
Information from: St. Petersburg Times, http://www.sptimes.com