Michael Heaton, Culture Secretary for Common Merchant, dies at 66

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Michael Heaton, known to regular Agent readers as the “Minister of Culture,” has passed away.

Heaton, 66, died at home, according to a Cuyahoga County medical examination report. No cause of death was given.

Heaton has long been a staple of The Plain Dealer, writing various features and covering music, movies, and other topics. But his column “Minister of Culture” resonated. Drawing on a personal perspective on a myriad of topics, Heaton covered the entire gamut, from life with his daughters to pop culture and more.

In his 31 years, he wrote nearly 1,500 ministerial columns. And they alternated between serious humorous tributes to those who died – Miles Davis, Abby Hoffman and others.

In 2007, Cleveland-based Gray & Co published “Truth and Justice for Pleasure and Profit,” a thirty-piece collection that Heaton has written over the years.

“Like many others, I was familiar with Michael’s Culture Secretary’s writings,” publisher David Gray said Monday. “I came back to Cleveland in 1990. I knew his writing. I was really surprised when we put together his press kit about how much hard news he wrote and how good the articles he did, including his coverage of 9/11. The ball was thrown. It made me scratch my head a lot. Because he didn’t make The Plain Dealer write more because he was good at it. There’s some really good writing in that group. Not that he didn’t write good entertainment columns as Minister of Culture, but his other reports had some seriousness that most people didn’t associate with him.”

Heaton was one of the first reporters to reach Zone Zero in New York City after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Over the years, Heaton has spoken about that day countless times at speech and book signing events throughout Greater Cleveland.

His view captures the feelings and details of a day as people worked in their own ways to help each other. He saw volunteers feeding rescue workers, people emptying huge bags of dog food for K9 units, and grief counselors helping first responders with their words.

The column is the last chapter of the book.

“Michael was a vital part of one of the great creative families in Cleveland,” said Michael Norman, editor of cleveland.com/The Plain Dealer Arts and Entertainment. His father, Chuck, was a legendary and beloved sportswriter in Cleveland, and was one of the greatest to have ever worked on The Plain Dealer. His sister Patti is one of the most prominent comedian television actresses in Hollywood. Michael worked his way up as a music and entertainment writer and later with a column for Secretary of Culture every week In Friday Magazine in the ’80s and ’90s, only the great Jane Scott was more recognizable and loved by Plain Dealer readers than Michael. His columns, about pop culture, Cleveland and his family life, truly resonated with people in His beloved hometown.

The ink was in Heaton’s blood. His father Chuck covered the Browns (and predicted that the Underdogs would defeat Baltimore in the 1964 championship), the Indians and many Cleveland teams and other athletes. He passed away at the age of 90 in 2008.

Michael Heaton graduated from Kent State University and became a critic and writer at the San Francisco Examiner. He has also worked for People magazine. He co-wrote “Motherhood and Hollywood” with his sister Patty as well as “I’ll Be Right Back” with longtime TV host Mike Douglas.

In 1987, Heaton’s career brought him back to his hometown newspaper. He wrote his last column for The Plain Dealer’s Minister of Culture in 2018.

Heaton’s writing style focused on clear sentences, without pretension. But he had an expressive way with words. Consider this introduction from a movie review he wrote in 2018:

‘Pacific Rim: Uprising’ is like a Panda Express cinematic buffet with extra MSG. It’s a sequel to screaming out loud. It’s a B-movie monster/robot science-fiction all-you-can-eat action marathon with CGI mayhem out of wazoo.

“But you know entering. You did not expect Mrs. Edith Evans to read a poem by Keats.”

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