Drew Sharp, a Detroit Free Press columnist since 1999, died yesterday morning at his home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. He was 56.

Sharp, a Detroit native who graduated from Detroit Catholic Central in 1978 and the University of Michigan in 1982, joined the Free Press in 1983. Initially, he had covered high school, college and pro beats. He formerly was the beat writer for Michigan State and the Detroit Pistons.

“Drew’s life was the Free Press,” his wife, Karen, said yesterday. “He loved the people there. He loved his job more than anything. He always considered himself very lucky to have such a good career.”

In January 1999, at the age of 38, Sharp was promoted to a full-time columnist to replace the retiring Charlie Vincent.

Upon being named columnist, Sharp wrote: “A columnist’s role isn’t to blindly lead cheers. Nor is it a blank check to slam individuals solely because you have been given a club. But there is a responsibility to raise questions and express doubts. There should be a commitment to deflate the smug and arrogant because, after all, this is only sports — a useful diversion and an increasingly influential business, but hardly irreplaceable in our everyday lives.

“A columnist hopes readers come away with a better understanding of what motivates his vision of sports today. He hopes they understand that the objective is to stir their emotions, make them laugh, cry, shout or swear, but most important, make them think.”

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Sharp was famous for his acerbic wit and for being tough on the teams he covered, often referred to by many readers as one of his column personas “The Great Boodini.” Sharp relished the role and played it deftly.

Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom said: “Drew was my colleague for more years than I can remember. This news was a complete shock, and heartbreaking knowing how much Drew was loved by his family and friends.”

“Drew Sharp loved writing about our beloved Detroit sports. He was a powerful voice, with big opinions,” said Robert Huschka, executive editor of the Detroit Free Press. “He was a longtime member of the Free Press family — and he will be greatly missed.”

“I’ve known Drew for 20 years — his generosity and friendship will be missed and forever remembered,” said Kevin Bull, Detroit Free Press sports director. “He loved everything about this business. He loved what he did.”

The Oakland Country Medical Examiner’s office said an autopsy showed Sharp died of hypertensive cardiovascular disease and was pronounced dead at 7:07 a.m.

According to Sharp’s friend and Free Press sports writer Mike Brudenell, Karen Sharp found her husband unresponsive at 5:30 a.m. and called 911. Sharp was taken by ambulance to St. Joseph Mercy Oakland hospital in Pontiac.

Funeral arrangements were pending last night.

Sharp is survived by his wife; his brother Calvin and his sister-in-law, Regina, and their two children Calvin and Donna; and another brother, Brian.