The “brightest bulb in the room” burns no more.
Tales of journalistic ingenuity — and copious consumption of alcohol — poured forth from friends and former colleagues of legendary, larger-than-life Post columnist Steve Dunleavy on Tuesday, a day after his death at age 81.
Emmy-winning executive producer Peter Brennan, who was Dunleavy’s boss at Fox TV’s “A Current Affair,” described him as “the most competitive guy I ever met” and “fun to be around.”
“He was the brightest bulb in the room at all times . . . It didn’t seem he would be vulnerable to mortal things like death.”
Brennan, a fellow Australian journalist, said Dunleavy would often arrive at their East 67th Street offices “and we’d have a blank sheet of paper and the show had to go tonight and come together.”
“Dunleavy and I would go across the road to the old Racing Club there and have a few beers, and he’d get an idea and go racing back the office,” Brennan said.
“He could spin a story out of nothing.”
Brennan, 74, detailed an episode from 1987, when Dunleavy was trying to land the first interview with Jessica Hahn, whose affair with televangelist Jim Bakker led to his downfall.
Brennan said, “We were drunk one night” and decided to drive out to Hahn’s Long Island home to convince her to spill her guts.
“Dunleavy ends up, when she won’t come to the door, standing outside her window, serenading her for about three hours before he gave up and we went and got breakfast,” he said.
Fox News correspondent-at-large Geraldo Rivera said he was also competing for the interview for his own TV show and “figured I had the inside scoop” because Hahn lived in his hometown of West Babylon.
“I sent a producer, we had the whole place staked out, but who shows up? Steve Dunleavy, drunk as a skunk,” he said.
“He goes under her window and all night, he’d howl, ‘Jessiiiiiiiiiccccccccaaaaaaaaa, Jessiiiiiiiiccccaaaaaaaa’ . . . I thought that was the most incredible enterprise journalism.”
In the end, Hahn decided to sit down with ABC’s “Nightline” — but Dunleavy beat the competition out of the scoop by rushing to her home and convincing the ABC driver waiting to drive her to the studio that she’d been hospitalized.
Longtime New York City publicist Morty Matz added new details to the famous incident in which Dunleavy got his foot broken by a plow during the Blizzard of 1978 while getting it on in a pile of snow with a woman he met in Elaine’s.
Matz said Dunleavy reached out for help afterward, and Matz arranged a private room for him at Metropolitan Hospital.
The next day, Matz said, “I get a phone call from Steve, and he says, ‘Morty, I need Foster’s.’ ”
Unclear what the request meant, Matz made Dunleavy explain that he wanted jumbo-sized cans of the Australian beer, which Matz then smuggled into the hospital every day while Dunleavy recuperated.
Former FDNY union chief and pension boss Stephen Cassidy said Dunleavy “loved firemen,” citing the moving columns he wrote about those who were sickened by working at Ground Zero following the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
He also described Dunleavy as “magnetic,” “charming” and “fun to be around,” and offered an insight into the way he worked his magic in the pages of The Post.
“He calls me up and asked me a series of questions. He said ‘Steve-o, that’s great,’ ” Cassidy said.
But Dunleavy then added, “Damnit, I don’t have a pen. I’m going to call you back and I’m going to do this again,” Cassidy said.
“He doesn’t call me back. And the next day I open up the New York Post and there’s these fabulous quotes from me in there, way better than what I actually said,” Cassidy said.
“That was him!”
Des O’Brien, owner of the since-shuttered Langan’s bar near Times Square where Dunleavy would hang out and compose his columns, said the scribe made a vivid impression the first time they met, after The Post relocated its newsroom from South Street to Midtown.
Dunleavy was in a corner booth talking with some patrons when he “sort of gagged and coughed in the middle of what he was saying,” and the crown that covered one of his front teeth flew from his mouth.
“We had to move everyone out of the way so we could find Dunleavy’s tooth. I found it and he didn’t even dunk it into a glass of water — he just put it in his hand and stuck it back in his mouth,” O’Brien said.
Retired NYPD Sgt. Eddie Burns, a former police spokesman and father of filmmaker Ed Burns, said Dunleavy — a staunch defender of the city’s cops — also often played cards with the gangsters who ran the Fulton Fish Market and the neighborhood around The Post’s South Street headquarters.
“Both the bad guys and the good guys knew him,” Burns said.
“He really was a man for all seasons.”