Murray Kempton, a Pulitzer Prize winner who championed underdogs and punctured the powerful in columns of elegant, thickly textured and at times baroque prose, has died. He was 79.

Kempton, who last worked for Newsday, had been under treatment for cancer since last winter. He died Monday in a Manhattan nursing home, apparently of heart failure, said Chiara Coletti, a friend and former colleague at Newsday.Kempton spent the greater part of a 55-year writing career in New York, working for the New York Post and Newsday. Until a few years ago he was seen regularly with a clip above the right trouser cuff pedaling a three-speed bicycle to news events.

His prose could be lethally direct, as when Kempton covered Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's arrival in Washington in the 1950s.

"Poor Dwight Eisenhower stood waiting for Khrushchev's plane door to open yesterday as though he were waiting for some White House attendant to come in with a package that ticked," Kempton wrote.

He often found redeeming qualities in barbarians without glossing over their sins.