Friday, January 13, 2006

I Remember by D. Bukowski, Globe & Mail, Jan 12 06
Thursday, January 12, 2006 Page S7

Irving Layton

Toronto literary agent Denise Bukowski writes about Irving Layton, whose obituary appeared on Jan. 5.

"I have just written the best book of my entire life." Irving Layton was back from Greece and the words rolled off his tongue like buttery sunlight. When was this? Every year between 1973 and 1979, when I was his editor at McClelland & Stewart. And every year we published that book. We knew that, if we didn't, someone else surely would, and his collections, unlike most poetry, always made money. My job was to make the volume the best it could be, and Irving loved the push and shove of pummelling it into shape. One year, after the mud-wrestling was done, I went on vacation. When I came back, I found poems we had taken out of the manuscript in the published book; he had called the proofreader to say there had been a terrible mistake -- poems were missing!

But how could you not adore a man who spent most of his free time in European cafés and still spelled espresso with an x? Who drove the wrong way down one-way streets and couldn't navigate a driveway without hitting a house? He was so outrageously charming, so cagey, and so blessedly free of writer's angst that every one of those books was an adventure and a joy. Even when he outsmarted me, which was often. Once, I discovered that some poems in a "new" collection had already appeared in his Collected Poems. When I raised the matter, he chortled with his usual bravado, "Well, you can't blame me for trying."

Readers are invited to send 250-word reminiscences about people who have been the subject of a recent obituary (not a death notice) in The Globe. Submissions about a friend, colleague or loved one may be sent to: Obituaries Editor, The Globe and Mail, 444 Front St. W., Toronto, Ont., M5V 2S9. E-mail:

Influential,, Glasgow, Scotland, Jan 14 06
Canadian poet Irving Layton dead at 93
Jan 14, 2006, 2:38 GMT

MONTREAL, QC, Canada (UPI) -- Canadian poet Irving Layton has died in Montreal, Quebec, at age 93.

Layton died Jan. 4 from Alzheimer`s disease diagnosed in 1994, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.

Layton published more than 40 volumes of verse and prose dating to the mid-1940`s and was given his country`s highest honor, the Order of Canada, in 1976.

He was born Irving Peter Lazarovitch in a small town in Romania and moved with his family to Canada.

Layton was both influential and controversial and described himself as 'a quiet madman, never far from tears,' the Times said.

He lectured and taught as a professor and poet in residence at a number of Canadian colleges and universities into the late 1980s.

Layton was married five times.

He is survived by Anna Pottier, who he married in 1984, as well as two sons and two daughters.

Copyright 2006 by United Press International

How to Make a Post

To post stories, memories or words of appreciation of Irving Layton and his poetry, please do the following:

Please go the bottom of this post and click on the COMMENTS link. This will open up a comments window - please post your memory here. It will ask you to either log in or choose to post an ANONYMOUS comment (if you wish, you can post your name and city in the actual message itself.)

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Thank you

In Memoriam (and Layton poem), blog entry, Jan 06
In Memoriam: Irving Layton 1912-2006
posted by Brian Campbell at 11:31 PM


I have seen respectable
served up like bread and wine
in stores and offices,
in club and hostel,
and from the streetcorner
that faces
I have seen death
served up
like ice.

Against this death,
slow, certain:
the body,
this burly sun,
the exhalations
of your breath,
your cheeks
rose and lovely,
and the secret
of the imagination
scheming freedom
from labour
and stone.

-- Irving Layton

Shocked Critics, Everything New Orleans (, Jan 5 06
Irving Layton

MONTREAL (AP) — Irving Layton, a prolific writer and one of Canada's top poets, died. He was 93.

Diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1994, Layton died Wednesday in a long-term care facility surrounded by caregivers and longtime friend Musia Schwartz, said Lisa Blobstein, spokeswoman for the Maimonides Geriatric Centre.

Layton published more than 40 books of poetry and prose over more than five decades, making his way to the top of Canada's literary hierarchy.

Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotter said Layton "taught me how to think." Layton taught for many years. He held university posts as poet-or writer-in-residence and was nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature in 1982. Layton was named to the Order of Canada in 1976 — Canada's highest honor.

His gritty, satiric and erotic poems often shocked critics in the 1940s and 1950s.

Yahoo! Spain article, Jan 5 06
5 de enero de 2006, 21h41

Falleció el poeta canadiense Irving Layton

MONTREAL, Canadá (AFP) - El poeta canadiense Irving Layton falleció el miércoles a la edad de 93 años en un hospital de Montreal, después de vivir durante varios años con el mal de Alzheimer, anunció este jueves la prensa.
Israël Lazarovitch, su verdadero nombre, nació en 1912 en Rumania. Cuando tenía un año, su familia se mudó a Montreal.

Después de su primera publicación, 'Here and Now' (1945), se convirtió en uno de los poetas más destacados de los años 1950 y 1960.

Con unas cuarenta obras en su haber, Layton obtuvo en 1958 el premio Gobernador General de Canadá por su recopilación 'A Red Carpet for the Sun'. También fue dos veces considerado para el premio Nobel de literatura.

Charlotte Observer, NC article, Jan 8 06

Irving Layton

MONTREAL -- Irving Layton, a prolific writer and one of Canada's top poets, died Wednesday. He was 93. Diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1994. Layton published more than 40 books of poetry and prose over more than five decades, making his way to the top of Canada's literary hierarchy. -- Associated Press

There Once was a Poet Named Irving, blog entry, Jan 5 06
Posted by AnthonyinMI

Re: Irving Layton, 93
« Reply #1 on Jan 5, 2006, 1:02am »

There once was a poet named Irving
Of the Nobel, he once was deserving
But in dirt he now lies
So if e'er he shall rise
'Twould certainly be quite unnerving

Posted on Zoofus

For Irving, blog entry, Jan 4 06
Topic: Irving Layton, 93 (Read 93 times)

Irving Layton, 93
Thread Started on Jan 4, 2006, 5:11pm »
Canadian poet Irving Layton dies at 93
Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Canadian poet Irving Layton died Wednesday in a Montreal care facility where had been living since 2000.

The 93-year old poet, who was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease. At his death, he was surrounded by several caregivers and his long-time friend, Musia Schwartz at the Maimonides Geriatric Centre in Montreal.

For an in depth look at the poet's life and death, see Thursday's Globe and Mail.

Born in the small Romanian town of Tirgul Neamt in 1912 to Jewish parents, Mr. Layton emigrated to Canada in 1913. His family settled in Montreal, where he grew up a poor neighbourhood around St. Urbain Street.

His often boisterous behaviour and anti-bourgeois attitude earned him as many admirers as it did detractors, and his notoriety became legendary among Canadian poets.

In the 1930's, while a student at MacDonald College, his socialist writing led to him later being blacklisted from entering the U.S. for nearly 15 years.

In the 1940's, along with fellow Canadian poets John Sutherland, Raymond Souster, and Louis Dudek, Mr. Layton railed against the older generation of poets, including Northrop Frye. Their efforts helped define the tone of the post-war generation poets in Canada. They argued that modern poetry should set its own style, independent of the British style, and reflect the social realities of the day.

Though he spent much of his career as a teacher, first at a high school then as a political science professor at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia), York University, and lectured at a number of universities across the country, his true passion and fame arose from poetry.

Among his students were poet/songwriter Leonard Cohen and media magnate Moses Znaimer. Mr. Cohen was said of Mr. Layton: "I taught him how to dress, he taught me how to live forever."

His star rose dramatically in the early 1950's after the publication of a collection of poems called The Black Huntsmen. He became a staple on the CBC televised debating program Fighting Words, where he earned a reputation as a fierce debater.

Among his many awards during his prolific career was the Governor-General's Award for A Red Carpet for the Sun, the first of many to be produced for the publishing house McClelland & Stewart in 1959.

Mr. Layton was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1981, but eventually lost to Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

He was named to the Order of Canada in 1976.

Mr. Layton was married five times and fathered four children.

Posted on Zoofus

New York Times Inaccuracies, blog entry, Jan 13 06
Posted by kevin 01-13-2006 12:29 PM ET (US)

I didn't realize Cid Corman was Canadian, or is that a mistake?

Posted by ZW 01-13-2006 12:52 PM ET (US)

It's a mistake. Neither was Jonathan Williams. That obit is embarrassingly full of factual inaccuracies. From the Times?! I know, shocking...

Posted on Bookninja

Mind Blowing Significance,, Jan 13 06
Posted by Anonymous 01-13-2006 10:53 PM ET (US)


A good site is May this wonderful poet be remembered for his mind blowing significance.

Posted on Bookninja

Irving gets his NYT Obituary,, Jan 13 06
Bookninja (George)01-13-2006 11:33 AM ET (US)

Irving gets his NYT obit

Here. (I thought our country's highest honour was scoring a goal against Russia in international hockey. You know, like five of them. You learn something new every day.)

Posted on Bookninja

Clinging to Headlines, Worldwide,, Jan 9 06
Bookninja (George)01-09-2006 10:00 AM ET (US)

More Irving

A little more Irving, clinging to headlines, worldwide.

Posted on Bookninja

Cameron's "breakthrough" comment,, Jan 6 06
Posted by Bookninja (George) 01-06-2006 07:28 PM ET (US)

What about Cameron's "breakthrough" comment. Was what Irving did actually breaking through, or was it just "first Canuck through the breach"?


Posted on Bookninja

Backhanded Bowering Compliment,, Jan 6 06
Posted by ZW 01-06-2006 06:04 PM ET (US)

Gotta love the backhanded compliment from Bowering in the Star piece. Fun game: go through the archives and see what Irving's said about George, Charles Olson and the TISHites...

Posted on Bookninja

More Layton Encomium,, Jan 6 06
Posted by Bookninja (George) 01-06-2006 10:24 AM ET (US)

More Layton encomium

And deservedly so. That old lech was, on average, a great poet--his most enduring work cancelling out the scads of dross. Star. Reuters. JTA. Spectator. Gazette/VC Sun.

Posted on Bookninja

A Canadian Great,, Jan 4 06
Posted by Bookninja (George) 01-04-2006 09:53 PM ET (US)
RIP: Irving Layton

A Canadian great, dead at 93.

Posted on Bookninja

Wish I'd known you, Israel,, Jan 5 06
Posted by ZW 01-05-2006 11:08 AM ET (US)

The greatest of Canadian poets and one of my favourite poets from any country or era. No one lived the "inescapable lousiness of growing old" as he did the last fifteen-odd years, so it's a welcome, though no less sad, piece of news to hear it's over. Wish I'd known you, Israel.

Posted on Bookninja

620 KTAR, Phoenix, AZ article Jan 5 06

Republished Associated Press article.

Our Greatest Champion of Poetry, The Toronto Star, Jan 4 06
Great Canadian poet Layton dead at 93
Jan. 4, 2006. 10:47 PM


Irving Layton, one of the first Canadian poets to gain international stature and a controversial presence on the national scene for decades, died in Montreal yesterday at the age of 93.

“He is our greatest poet, our greatest champion of poetry,” long-time friend Leonard Cohen proclaimed. “Alzheimer’s could not silence him and neither will death.”

Before Layton, Canadian poets tended to be regarded as tweedy romantics, celebrating nature in the Victorian tradition. of Victorian landscape verse. Layton changed all that. His poetry owed more to his childhood experience of his acid-tongued mother and the verbal combativeness of the Jewish immigrant community in Montreal than it did to Longfellow or Wordsworth. He was also the first Canadian literary figure to use the media as a vehicle of self-promotion.

Irving Layton was born in 1912, in Romania. His parents, Moishe and Klara Lazarovitch, immigrated to Montreal with their eight children a year later. Like another celebrated literary figure from Montreal, Mordecai Richler, the young Israel Lazarovitch grew up with an aggressive mother who dominated a weak-willed father. Throughout his life Layton retained the brittle self-confidence of a boy favoured by his mother over her own husband.

The family was mired in poverty —

Klara barely supported her brood by running a tiny grocery store, but Layton managed to obtain a high school education while working at odd jobs, and to graduate from Macdonald College, an agricultural school affiliated with McGill. After a brief stint in the wartime army during World War II — he never left Canada — Layton obtained an MA in economics and political science from McGill in 1946.

For years he was a magnetic presence teaching history and literature at a Jewish high school in Montreal before realizing a life-long ambition in 1969 he cherished the ambition of a full-time university position, a goal finally realized in 1969 when he became professor of English at York University.

Before then, . He was a magnetic presence in the classroom, with his powerful physical strength, energy and articulate enthusiasm for the poetry he taught.

As a McGill student, Layton met two other poets, Louis Dudek and John Sutherland, who shared a desire for a more modern approach to verse. Sutherland founded a periodical entitled First Statement, favouring poetry tied to everyday “un-poetic” subjects in language close to the street. In typical fashion, Layton eventually feuded with both poets, but Sutherland’s magazine provided an outlet for Layton’s early work.

Layton’s first collection, Here and Now, appeared in 1945. One of its more notable poems was “De Bullion Street,” about Montreal’s red-light district, which compared a mission and church to “hemorrhoids on the city’s anus.” This was plain language with a vengeance. It was just the beginning. Layton’s books poured out from literary presses in the late ’40s and ’50s. In 1956, a volume of his selected poems, The Improved Binoculars, was distributed by his first commercial publisher, Ryerson Press, then affiliated with the United Church. Insiders were An editorial committee of the Press was so offended by poems such as “De Bullion Street” that the name of Ryerson Press was removed from the copyright page.

The controversy attracted the attention of publisher Jack McClelland, whose publishing company issued Layton’s breakthrough book, A Red Carpet for the Sun, in 1959. “His poems don’t suffer from the problem of most modern poetry (in which) which has developed so that poets are communicating only with other poets, and the average person can’t comprehend the symbolism,” McClelland told a reporter at the time. The book sold well.

South of the border, the great modernist poet William Carlos Williams called Layton “a backwoodsman with a tremendous power to do anything he wants with verse.”

The comment sounded mildly patronizing, but it was also recognition of the power of such Layton poems as “A Tall Man Executes A Jig,” and “The Bull Calf,” which combined deep feeling with lucid statement and smouldering language.

By that point, Layton was inescapable. On the wings of frequent appearances on was a frequent guest on CBC television’s Fighting Words, a talk show that provided a perfect forum for his gift for diatribe and debate. Helped by his poetry readings and media interviews, he developed the persona of a hot-blooded, lusty poet glorying in sex and riotous living, in defiance of his pinched, repressed , puritanical fellow Canadians. To reporter June Callwood, however, he insisted on his faithfulness as a husband. “There is not the smallest crumb of truth in the stories one hears about my philandering,” he said. “I had coffee romances and then fantasized them into poems, that’s all.”

His marital life was certainly eventful. In 1938 he married Faye Lynch, a bookkeeper whose salary helped support Layton while still a student. He was repelled by her obesity; at one point, according to Elspeth Cameron’s biography Irving Layton: A Portrait, he forced her to sign a contract promising to lose weight.

Not surprisingly, this first marriage failed. Subsequent wives included Betty Sutherland, sister of his friend John Sutherland and half-sister to actor Donald Sutherland and mother of his children Max and Naomi; Aviva Layton Whiteson, mother of his son David, who published Motion Sickness, an unflattering portrait of his father in 1999; Harriet Bernstein, mother of his daughter Samantha; and Anna Pottier, his last wife, from whom he separated in 1995. Aviva, nee Cantor, retained a friendship with the poet until the end of his life. “Irving sparkled in an era now gone,” she comments. “For a long time, he was right at the centre of Canadian literature and he had a very full life.”

Layton was equally outspoken about politics. as he was about sex and poetry. In his youth he was a fervent Communist and always professed Marxist leanings. But it was 19th-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who most influenced him. Like the philosopher, Layton thought of himself as a member of a spiritual elite, swept away by the life force, using his art to reconcile joy and suffering, reason and passion.

Later he grew to despise communism, and scandalized his fellow Canadian literati by supporting the American war in Vietnam.

and even sent one of his books, The Shattered Plinths, to President Lyndon Johnson.

At the same time

The quality of his poetry declined markedly throughout the ’70s and ’80s, often being reduced to bombast and belligerence. By the time Alzheimer’s disease silenced Layton in the late ’90s, his poetic reputation had begun to slide. Nonetheless, he retained devoted readers.

“I loved him,” comments Patrick Lane, one of Canada’s best-known contemporary poets. “I loved especially his sheer joy at being male…He was a true original, someone we haven’t seen in our culture for a long time.”

Former Canadian poet laureate George Bowering says Layton testifies to Layton’s historical importance. “He “had an energy that blew apart the lah-dee-dah approach to poetry that was offered to us then. I think that maybe he was one of those guys who opened the way for poets who were better than him. You certainly wouldn’t have seen an Al Purdy without Layton.”

Former Toronto poet laureate Dennis Lee says of Layton, “He probably had the richest vocabulary of any poet in Canada.”

His knowledge of the language you wouldn’t necessarily expect, but it was very sophisticated. He really was drunk on language in the best possible way.”

Both Lee Lee and Layton’s biographer, Elspeth Cameron, agree there are a dozen or 15 poems Layton leaves behind that will ensure his immortality. Cameron maintains this position despite the ferocious war Layton waged against her candid 1985 biography of him.

when it appeared in 1985. Cameron,

Now an adjunct professor of English and Canadian studies at Brock University, she recalls receiving around 500 hate letters from her subject. “He sent me a drawing, a picture of me with a noose around my neck,” Cameron says. “He threatened my parents, he threatened to burn down my house. We were all pretty scared.”

Nevertheless, Cameron sticks by her high assessment of Layton as a poet. “He was one of the first of what we would call the ethnic or multi-cultural voices in this country, a writer who was neither WASP nor French Canadian,” Cameron says. “I think the kind of poetry he wrote was truly a breakthrough from the kind of Romantic British poetry that came before him. He wasn’t a fluke ..... His work wasn’t a kind of blip in Canadian literary history he was a major figure.” article, Jan 5 06
Top Canadian Poet Irving Layton Dies at 93
Republished Associated Press article Jan 5

Décès du Poète,, Jan 5 06
NOUVELOBS.COM | 05.01.06 | 18:28
Décès du poète
Irving Layton

Le poète canadien d'origine roumaine Irving Layton est mort atteint de la maladie d'Alzheimer.

L a presse a annoncé jeudi 5 décembre que le poète canadien anglophone Irving Layton est décédé mercredi 4 décembre à l'âge de 93 ans dans un hôpital de Montréal, après avoir souffert pendant une dizaine d'années de la maladie d'Alzheimer.
Né en 1912 en Roumanie, son vrai nom était Israël Lazarovitch. Sa famille s'est installée à Montréal alors qu'il n'avait qu'un an.
Après son premier recueil "Here and Now", paru en 1945, il devient l'un des poètes les plus remarqués des années 1950 et 1960.

Hommage de Léonard Cohen

"Il y avait Irving Layton, et il y avait les autres", affirme le chanteur Leonard Cohen, dans un message au quotidien anglophone de Montréal The Gazette.
"C'est notre plus grand poète. La maladie d'Alzheimer ne l'a pas fait taire, et la mort ne le fera pas non plus", a ajouté le chanteur qui connaît Irving Layton depuis les années 1950 et le considère comme son mentor.
Auteur d'une quarantaine d'ouvrages, Irving Layton a obtenu en 1958 le prix du Gouverneur général du Canada pour son recueil "A Red Carpet for the Sun". Il a également été deux fois en compétition pour le prix Nobel de littérature.

Dans la deuxième partie de sa vie, il s'est davantage penché sur ses origines juives, affirmant: "l'Holocauste est mon symbole". "L'Homme oublie quel monstre terrifiant il peut être. Je veux rappeler en permanence aux gens qu'ils sont au bord du désastre", disait-il.
Une sélection de ses poèmes a été traduite en français et publiée en 2001 sous le titre "Layton, l'essentiel".

A Poem for Irvin,, blog entry (and poem for Irving), Jan 9 06
Welcome To The Sweet Life
A Poem About Irving Layton

Layton reading; Layton dancing; Layton


Like a cabby
he stands:
short, solid,

and bends forward
to the god of all cabbies:
a foul-mouthed, cigar-chewing
uncle of a god
who lives in a 4th floor walk-up
of a heaven.

He screams out
that Hitler
is alive and well
and living as a 16 year old punk
whose black girlfriend
is really Adolf Eichmann
and that together
they are
the Literary Establishment
of this chunk of ice.

He leans into the podium,
grips the book as if a steering wheel
and turns the pages with a single finger.
He guns his poem straight to your home.

You leave the room stinking
of tobacco stains, wisdom, and pain.


He wore torn pants
to his nephew's Bar Mitzvah
and brought a woman
who didn't look anything
like a wife.
He gave the kid
by dancing with angels
on the head of a pin.
"My frielich will never end," he cried,
tears running down his cheeks,
"My frielich will never end."


Layton, you are my father
fighting the battles we won years ago.
Layton, I am a Jew
and no one has pulled out my beard.
Layton, no Cossack ripped my son
from his Catholic mother's womb.
Layton, my poems are published
by penny-pinching Scots
who invite me into their homes
for whiskey and roast beef.
Layton, we have arrived.
Layton, we have arrived home.
And you Layton, you
have driven us here:
foul-mouthed and stinking of your god.

Layton, you will always be our cabby.

posted on January 9, 2006 12:19 PM

As Quirky as Prolific, New York Times, Jan 13 06
Irving Layton, 93, Canadian Poet With a Worldwide Following, Dies
Published: January 13, 2006

Irving Layton, a Canadian poet as quirky as he was prolific, died on Jan. 4 in Montreal. He was 93.

The death was announced on his Web site, Press reports from Montreal said the cause was Alzheimer's disease, diagnosed in 1994.

Foreign-born, though barely so, Mr. Layton became a national celebrity with an oeuvre of more than 40 volumes of verse and prose dating to the mid-1940's. He was both influential and controversial in Canada for decades. Admired by nobody more than himself, he also had his admirers in Europe and Asia, particularly in Italy and Korea.

In the United States his following was mainly confined to niches, like the school of Black Mountain poets, a leading forum of experimental verse, to whom he became a mentor. These poets, including Robert Creeley, could respond to Mr. Layton's idiosyncratic approach and use it in their innovative yet disciplined verse forms.

Mr. Layton was named to the Order of Canada in 1976, his country's highest honor.

Abrasive by nature, living an often flamboyantly unruly existence and seemingly enjoying his rambunctious reputation, he poured out verse that could be gritty, satirical, belligerent, acerbic or erotic. He described himself as "a quiet madman, never far from tears." Others thought of him as the combined Picasso and Mae West of Canadian poetry.

His air of self-importance and misogynous undertones put off some readers and may have contributed to his relative obscurity in the United States. But critics generally recognized him as a unique and earthy presence in Canadian letters who managed to bring poetry into contemporary affairs, and vice versa.

Irving Peter Lazarovitch - a surname later changed - was born in a small town in Romania and taken to Canada as an infant; the family eventually settled in Montreal. His first poem, dedicated to a teacher, was written in the sixth grade and included in a collection of love poetry published in 1986, "Dance With Desire." He graduated from Macdonald College in 1939 and, after serving in the Canadian Army artillery in World War II, received a master's degree from McGill University in 1946.

His first published volume of poetry was "Here and Now" in 1945. Subsequent volumes in the 1950's defined his voice as a literary figure, as did his voluminous correspondence with Creeley and the Canadian writers Cid Corman and Jonathan Williams. He lectured and taught as a professor and poet in residence at a number of Canadian colleges and universities into the late 1980's.

Mr. Layton was married five times, most recently to Anna Pottier in 1984. According to his Web site, his other survivors include his two sons, Max and David, and two daughters, Nao and Samantha.

LA Times article Jan 6

Washington Times article Jan 13
Canadian poet Irving Layton dead at 93
Jan. 13, 2006 at 5:20PM

Canadian poet Irving Layton has died in Montreal, Quebec, at age 93.

Layton died Jan. 4 from Alzheimer's disease diagnosed in 1994, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday. Layton published more than 40 volumes of verse and prose dating to the mid-1940's and was given his country's highest honor, the Order of Canada, in 1976. He was born Irving Peter Lazarovitch in a small town in Romania and moved with his family to Canada. Layton was both influential and controversial and described himself as "a quiet madman, never far from tears," the Times said.

He lectured and taught as a professor and poet in residence at a number of Canadian colleges and universities into the late 1980s. Layton was married five times. He is survived by Anna Pottier, who he married in 1984, as well as two sons and two daughters.