What took you so long, Artie?

You may have heard it yesterday but it’s in all the print media today: Almost a year overdue, Art Buchwald has finally succumbed to his cancer kidney failure. He may not have been the only person ever booted out of a hospice for failure to die in a timely fashion but he’s certainly the first one I ever heard of it happening to. Okay, they didn’t ask him to leave but I think that’s the kind of hyperbole he’d be okay with. After all, he said “Since I hadn’t had any practice dying, I had to learn the hard way.

I wasn’t a huge fan of his columns but I appreciated his wit and self-deprication. His NYT obit is filled with little gems, like his reaction to having one of his columns called “Unadulterated rot” by Eisenhower press secretary James C. Hagerty: He said that he had “been known to write adulterated rot” but never “unadulterated rot.” Wayan would probably appreciate his comments about bicycling. “Americans are broad-minded people. They’ll accept the fact that a person can be an alcoholic, a dope fiend, a wife beater, and even a newspaperman, but if a man doesn’t drive, there is something wrong with him.”

As far as why I feel compelled to add my voice to the thousands talking about his passing, it’s not because he was a real Washingtonian: someone who wasn’t born here, but came and found it difficult to leave. Art Buchwald really came onto my radar for the simple reason that he talked openly and calmly about death, without prevarication. I think he’d be tickled to know that there was at least one person who he had to get a terminal disease to attract as a fan.

Death eventually comes to us all, at least so far, but we are mostly reluctant to talk about it or face it. It’s as sure as sundown, but without the certainty of that sunrise coming afterwards we’re not as willing to accept it. When a Buchwald or a Tim Leary or a Warren Zevon comes along and speaks plainly about the unknown I think they enrich us all. Buchwald took an hour out to talk to Diane Rehm on WAMU almost a year ago when he decided to enter hospice care, another hour from the hospice when he was about 3 months overdue on his projected three weeks to live and most recently in November after he’d finished another book. I heard the November show and I’ll go back and give the other two a listen. He’s not someone who will drive you to side-splitting laughter but I don’t think I’ve ever read his column without cracking at least one smile. Thanks, Art, for bringing some smiles to us while heading for the undiscovered country – it makes me a little calmer about my eventual departure as well, and reminds us all that we’ve got no control over that eventual destination but we can choose the route we take along the way.

Avedon Carol said it well: So thanks, Art – for that, and for refusing to go glumly into that good night.

3 Comments so far

  1. wayan (unregistered) on January 20th, 2007 @ 3:30 am

    The thought of death give me cold chills of mortal terror. Hence my craziness – too much fun and I’ll not think about it.

    Thanks for pointing out Art thought about it in a way that may clam my nerves. I was never an Art fan in life, but I may be in death.


  2. anon (unregistered) on January 22nd, 2007 @ 11:33 am

    Art Buchwald did not die of cancer.


  3. Don (unregistered) on January 22nd, 2007 @ 12:11 pm

    Anon – I for some reason had got it into my head that the root cause of his kidney failure was cancer-related, but since you commented and I went looking for the reason I thought that…. I find nothing. No idea why I was so sure of that, but thanks for correcting me.



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