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Mel Lewis, author of “If You Can Cross the Line” and “City of Quartz,” dies at 69

Mel Lewis, author of "If You Can Cross the Line" and "City of Quartz," dies at 69

Mike Davis, ‘City of Quartz’ author who chronicled the forces that shaped L.A., dies at 69

The author of “City of Quartz,” a revealing look at the complex forces that helped turn L.A. into a city and an American metropolis, died Monday. He was 69.

Mel Lewis, who was behind the iconic mural painting of a smiling, bearded man on the south wall of the Los Angeles City Hall, died at a hospital after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was surrounded by his daughters, his wife, Susan, and their two children.

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Mel Lewis,” said City Hall spokesman Adam Teller in a statement. “He made such an extraordinary mark that he is an icon in Los Angeles and across the world.”

Born in Philadelphia in 1946, the only child of Italian immigrants and raised by a single mother, Lewis said he was “blessed” to have a stable home life that he could later describe in his first book, “What If There Were Angels.”

The author of two novels, “If You Can Cross the Line” and the recent book “City of Quartz,” a revealing look at the forces that shaped L.A., died Monday. He was 69.

“City of Quartz,” which he sold to Simon & Schuster, was the first of several books he wrote about the city, examining such topics as crime, homelessness and the L.A. River. “Most writers are afraid of going there, afraid of the dark, afraid of the city,” he said in a 2011 interview.

He grew up wanting to be a doctor, but his father was more practical.

“My father said, ‘Son, you can’t go to medical school. The only way that you’ll be able to survive in this life is to make a living and go out to work. I’m not paying for you to study this stuff out. You can go to work.’”

Lewis, who earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 1962, received an M.A. from Columbia University in 1969.

He moved to New York for a time, then to Los Angeles four years later, after a friend suggested a

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