Leonard was an alcoholic who stopped drinking a couple of decades ago. In the words of his colleague Eden Ross Lipson, “he had sobriety long enough for an entire career, and used it generously.” But he was always conscious of the dangers threatening scribblers everywhere. This is what Leonard said about them in that same review of Mailer quoted by Doctorow:
Of course, it’s virtually as if writers are there to be ruined. Look at the list: booze, pot, too much sex, too little, too much failure in one’s private life, too much attention, too much recognition, too little recognition, frustration. Nearly everything in the scheme of things works to dull a first-rate talent. But the worst probably is cowardice—as one gets older, one becomes aware of one’s cowardice. The desire to be bold, which once was a joy, gets heavy with caution and duty. And finally there’s apathy. About the time it doesn’t seem too important to be a major writer, you know you’ve slipped far enough to be doing your work on the comeback trail.
Remarkably, Leonard never succumbed to any of those dangers. As Jen Nessel put it, “he was deeply principled in ways you don’t see much anymore.”
Last year Leonard hung on just long enough to celebrate the seventieth birthday of his wife, Sue Leonard—and to cast his vote to end a forty-year-long era of conservatism in America. Only then could he allow himself to let go.