Shadows are falling and I'm running out of breath

Keep me in your heart for awhile

Those are the opening words of the last song on Warren Zevon's haunting 
final album, The Wind. When he sang those words, he was, literally, 
running out of breath: He died of lung cancer Sunday night at his home in 
West Hollywood. He was 56, a new granddad.

Zevon got the bad news a year ago: mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer, 
inoperable. It's the same disease that killed Steve McQueen, a fact 
that amused Zevon, who could find humor in pretty much anything.

He could also find a song in pretty much anything, including his 
impending death. He spent his last months working on The Wind, which features 
supporting performances by some of the many musicians who admired him, 
including Bruce Springsteen, Dwight Yoakam, Don Henley, Jackson Browne, 
Emmylou Harris and Tom Petty.

These admiring stars had far more commercial success than Zevon did. 
Critics praised his songs -- the intelligent, often bitingly funny 
lyrics, married to sometimes-raucous, sometimes-beautiful melodies -- but he 
had only one really big hit, the surreal screamer Werewolves of London, 
back in 1978. After that his career declined, the downward slide 
heavily lubricated by alcohol. He wrote songs about that, too; this was a man 
seriously in touch with his weaknesses.

STAYING SOBER

Eventually he got himself sober, and he stayed that way for 18 years. 
He continued to tour sporadically -- he was an excellent pianist and 
guitarist -- performing mostly at smaller venues for his cult of fiercely 
loyal fans. He also continued to produce critically acclaimed albums, 
including Sentimental Hygiene, Mr. Bad Example, I'll Sleep When I'm 
Dead, Life'll Kill Ya and My Ride's Here. The ''ride'' in My Ride's Here is 
a hearse. Long before the cancer, Zevon was fascinated by death.

He was also fascinated by writing. One of his closest friends was The 
Herald's Carl Hiaasen, a fellow twisted mind whom Zevon sought out at a 
book signing after Hiaasen mentioned him in his book Native Tongue. 
Through Hiaasen, Zevon became an honorary member of the Rock Bottom 
Remainders, a band of writers (I'm one) who periodically attempt, without 
success, to play rock 'n' roll. In 1998, at Hiaasen's urging, we invited 
Zevon to perform with the band; to our shock, he agreed, and flew to 
Miami to join us on stage for a performance at the Miami Book Fair.

We did several of his songs, including Poor, Poor Pitiful Me; the 
hilarious Hula Hula Boys; and the legendary Lawyers, Guns and Money. We also 
did Werewolves of London, but Zevon insisted that it had to be sung by 
Stephen King. King happily agreed, belting out a truly frightening 
version of the song, much to Zevon's delight.

That was typical of Zevon, happily playing second fiddle to a bunch of 
talent-impaired authors. He was anything but the ego-crazed, 
self-important rock star. One night the band gathered at my house, and after a 
couple of hours, one of Zevon's songs, by random chance, popped up on the 
CD changer. Zevon jumped up, raced to the stereo, and turned it off. He 
was relentlessly self-deprecating about his life, his career; you could 
not give the man a compliment. To me, it always seemed as though his 
friends and his fans loved him far more than he loved himself.

In November, I had dinner with him in Beverly Hills. We talked about 
dying, but we laughed a lot more than we cried. At one point, I asked him 
if he ever hoped for a miracle, hoped that he'd wake up one morning 
cured. I don't recall the exact wording of his answer, but the essence of 
it was that he'd feel as if he was letting everybody down. He laughed 
after he said this, but I don't know that he was entirely kidding.

IN SECLUSION

He spent his last months mostly holed up in his apartment -- ''living 
out this low-budget-Elvis twilight,'' is how he described it to Hiaasen. 
But despite his doctors' predictions, he lived long enough to see the 
birth of his twin grandchildren, and he lived long enough to complete 
The Wind. He also lived long enough to see the album become a success, 
both with critics and the public. It will surely win him new fans -- 
people who might never have bought a Zevon album if he hadn't got all this 
publicity, for dying.

It may make him a bigger star than he ever was.

He'd have been amused by that.

When you get up in the morning and you see that crazy sun

Keep me in your heart for awhile

There's a train leaving nightly called when all is said and done

Keep me in your heart for awhile