A jovial, confident, seemingly healthy Mayor Richard J. Daley started his day on this frigid Monday by attending a pre-Christmas breakfast with his loyal department heads. By most accounts, the 21st year of Daley's record-breaking reign as mayor was one of his happiest.
Two years before, he had suffered a potentially debilitating stroke but had recovered fully and won an unprecedented sixth term in 1975.After breakfast, he looked at some ice sculptures on display at the Civic Center Plaza (soon to be named after him) and then took a long ride in his limousine to the farthest southern reaches of his city to attend a Chicago Park District event, where, on a basketball court, he even made a basket on his first try.
On the way back to City Hall, Daley told his security detail that he had chest pains, and they drove him to his doctor's office on North Michigan Avenue. After a quick examination, his doctor said Daley would have to go to nearby Northwestern Memorial Hospital and left the mayor alone while he made the necessary arrangements.
When he returned, the mayor had collapsed. He was rushed to the hospital, but it was obvious that Richard J. Daley, at the age of 74, was dead.
In the days that followed, an estimated 100,000 people came to the Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church in Daley's native Bridgeport community to pass by his casket.
The mourners at his funeral included Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, President-elect Jimmy Carter and Sens. Edward Kennedy and George McGovern, in addition to mayors from throughout the nation.
Michael Bilandic, the Bridgeport alderman, was chosen to succeed Daley, but he was not the politician Daley was. Nor was the Democratic machine what it once was. Already crippled by a federal court decree that restricted patronage, it could no longer guarantee elections without Daley.
"Many will say it was an era that should have ended, perhaps long ago," said the Tribune, which had endorsed him in four of six mayoral campaigns. But "before cheering the end of the Daley machine, it is worth pausing to ask to what extent it has been the city that worked, and to what extent it was the Daley machine that worked."
Despite the mayor's flaws, most agreed he did what he thought was best for the city he loved.