Luciano Suicide Still Remains a Big Mystery

By Barry Meisel New York Daily News | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), February 5, 1995 | Go to article overview

Luciano Suicide Still Remains a Big Mystery


Barry Meisel New York Daily News, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Ron Luciano told a friend last year he had checked himself into a hospital and was examined for depression early in 1994. The friend was startled.

Not because Luciano seemed to be the most fun-loving, funny, happy-go-lucky extrovert on the face of the earth. This friend knew for years - just as Luciano's family and many other friends knew - the self-deprecating jokes, the exaggerated stories of his life as a major-league umpire, the raconteur character he became - was a facade. It was a barrier built and diligently maintained to keep safe distance between himself and the millions of people he entertained as an umpire, NBC color commentator, author and speaker.

Ron Luciano was an introvert.

The friend wasn't stunned that Luciano was unhappy, but he was surprised that the level of depression was so deep. And he was startled to be the recipient of such personal news. Luciano was a loving, giving, unselfish man who never stopped trying to make people happy. Burdening friends with bad news or personal problems was something he almost never did.

"I remember telling him, `That's the start of getting better, Ronnie,"' said the friend, who asked that his name not be used. "He was so private, I know how tough it was for him just to tell me that."

Apparently, Luciano told almost nobody else he was so depressed. And he never let on his depression had worsened. A week ago Wednesday, in the one-car garage of his pale green-sided home in this upstate village, Ron Luciano affixed a black hose over the tailpipe of his brown Cadillac, started the engine, closed the windows and climbed into the car.

He was found at 3:50 p.m. by a friend, dead of carbon monoxide poisoning. Ron Luciano was 57.

Other than the admission of depression a year ago, this well-liked native of Endicott, six miles west of Binghamton, offered no clues as to why he killed himself. But even in how he carefully planned his suicide, Luciano thought of everybody else first.

"It was one of the easiest suicides I've ever investigated," said Endicott police Lt. Harland Ayers.

Police found several written pieces of information left by Luciano. One was a note for his two sisters, Dee Jester and Barbara Walton, with whom he lived. Walton, a widow, was in Denver visiting her son Wednesday. Luciano also left a request for specific funeral arrangements. He clearly marked his 1994 tax receipts, insurance policies, will and other financial paperwork.

He even left his dog, Billy (named after Billy Martin, another baseball legend who lived and died tragically in the greater Binghamton area) in a nearby kennel, and paid the bill in full.

"He never wanted to burden anybody," said David Fisher, the New York City author who collaborated with Luciano on four books. "This was the only selfish thing he ever did."

Rick Stefano, 27, was the friend who found Luciano. Two days before his death, Luciano had asked Stefano, a handyman and landscaper who often worked around Luciano's home, to meet him at his house Wednesday for some work around the garage.

Stefano arrived to find the garage door closed but the front door open. He walked through the house, into the garage and into the grisly scene. Stefano called 911. He was nearly hysterical when friends began arriving.

Quickly and respectfully, the police and the Broome County coroner completed their solemn tasks at the scene. Word traveled fast in this old-world town of 13,000 people, many of Italian descent. The shock and sadness darkened the town.

"I'm going to miss him," said Stefano, who hunted deer and birds with Luciano in New York and Pennsylvania, and fished with him in Canada. "Am I mad at him? No. It's just hard to figure. Ronnie's Ronnie. I'm very surprised."

Luciano in his letter apologized to Rick for setting him up, and explained how this was nobody's fault. He wanted his family to insure the public that his death was not drug or alcohol-related. …

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