“in the early 70’s in Aspen he was a fixture at one end of the Jerome Bar and Dr. Hunter Thompson at the other… “ Edgar Boyles
Political prankster Dick Tuck getting married to Joyce Daly in 1989. The location is the Woody Creek Tavern in Aspen, Colorado. In attendance is Hunter S. Thompson, his good friend.
Dick Tuck, the Democrats’ prankster-at-large, who bedeviled Barry M. Goldwater, Richard M. Nixon and other Republicans with bad-news fortune cookies, a comely spy, a treacherous little old lady and other campaign-trail tomfoolery, died on Monday in Tucson. He was 94.
His death, at an assisted living facility, was confirmed by Lorraine Glicksman, a close friend.
Long retired as a Democratic National Committee consultant, strategist and advance man, Mr. Tuck was a king gremlin of political shenanigans, starting in California in the 1950s and needling G.O.P. rivals for decades. Dogged by Mr. Tuck most of his political life, Nixon can be heard on Oval Office tapes enviously praising Tuck exploits over his own team’s crude (and illegal) dirty tricks.
“Nixon was an admirer of mine,” Mr. Tuck said in a telephone interview for this obituary in 2013 from his home in Tucson. With unconcealed glee, he recalled many pranks and quoted Nixon on the tapes as saying: “Tuck did that and got away with it” and “Shows you what a master Dick Tuck was.”
On the morning after the first televised presidential debate between Nixon and John F. Kennedy in 1960, Mr. Tuck enlisted an elderly woman to sidle up to Nixon in Memphis. Wearing a big Nixon button, she hugged him and cooed as television cameras rolled: “That’s all right, son. Kennedy beat you last night, but don’t worry. You’ll get him next time!”
To connoisseurs of the dark arts of political tricksters, Mr. Tuck was a master of psychological jujitsu. By his own accounts, he shadowed and leapfrogged Republican campaigns, planted agents with surprises at whistle-stops, disrupted schedules, started nasty rumors and issued bogus press advisories. Democratic officials usually disavowed his activities, and Republican officials nearly always disputed his claims.
But pixilated things happened when Tuck operatives were around. Buses pulled out early. Trains made unscheduled stops. Placards in foreign languages bore miscreant messages. Newsletters hailed Democrats. At Republican rallies, bands struck up Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Happy Days Are Here Again,” Lyndon B. Johnson balloons floated up and fire chiefs — at least they wore fire chiefs’ helmets — underestimated crowd sizes for reporters.
Mr. Tuck said he executed no break-ins, illegal wiretaps, money launderings or felonious cover-ups of the kind that drove Nixon from the presidency in the Watergate scandal in 1974. While the seriousness of political sabotage is open to interpretation — one hellion’s dirty trick is another’s clever tactic — Mr. Tuck insisted that his own stunts were benign mischief.
He began hoodwinking Nixon as a student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1950. While secretly backing Helen Gahagan Douglas for the United States Senate, he volunteered to work for the Republicans and made arrangements for a Nixon rally on campus. He hired an auditorium seating 2,000 people but neglected to publicize the event. Only 23 people showed up. When Nixon arrived, Mr. Tuck made a long-winded introduction and asked the candidate to speak on international monetary policy.
In 1958, when Edmund G. Brown, who was known as Pat, ran for governor of California, Mr. Tuck delivered a special treat at a Republican banquet given by Chinese supporters of his opponent, Senator William F. Knowland — fortune cookies with the message “Knowland for Premier of Formosa.”