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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The most widely read newspaper humorist of his time who died as he lived

Poking fun at people who took themselves too seriously, raising a laugh, and cocking a snook at death towards the end of his life (more about that later) was Art Buchwald's speciality.

Buchwald (pictured at an auction in August 2006) died in January 2007 at the age of 81, but something he said years ago resonates with me even today: "If you can make people laugh, you get all the love you want." I came across this quote again recently and my thoughts then turned to the man whose business and he took it seriously was to get people to laugh.

His obituary in The New York Times, by Richard Severo, described best what Buchwald did for a living:

Mr. Buchwald’s syndicated column was a staple for a generation or more of newspaper readers, not least the politicians and government grandees he lampooned so regularly. His life was a rich tale of gumption, heartbreak and humour, with chapters in Paris, Washington and points around the globe.

Severo also explained why no year of Buchwald's life was as remarkable as the last, and when you read the details you get the true measure of a strong-minded individual who lived life to the fullest:

Last February [2006], doctors told him he had only a few weeks to live. “I decided to move into a hospice and go quietly into the night,” he wrote three months later. “For reasons that even the doctors can’t explain, my kidneys kept working.”

Refusing dialysis, he continued to write his column, reflecting on his mortality while keeping his humour even as he lost a leg. He spent the summer on Martha’s Vineyard, published a book, Too Soon to Say Goodbye, in the fall and attended a memorial for an old friend, the reporter R. W. Apple Jr. of The New York Times. He gave interviews and looked on as his life was celebrated.

“The French ambassador gave me the literary equivalent of the Legion of Honour,” he wrote. “The National Hospice Association made me man of the year. I never realised dying was so much fun.”

Now you know why I think of Art Buchwald often. And why I consider him one of my role models.
  • Behram "Busybee" Contractor, the editor I loved and respected more than any other journalist I have worked with, was also an admirer of Art Buchwald. Behram's universally popular daily column, "Round and About", he told us once, was modelled on Buchwald's columns. You can feast on the "Round and About" archives here: "Busybee Forever".