At least Art Buchwald got his final wish. He told friends – with an eye perhaps on possible competing headlines – he didn’t want to die the same day as Fidel Castro.
The world famous humour columnist – at one time his column ran in more than 550 newspapers – died in Washington at the age of 81 after more than a year battling a kidney ailment.
From his sickbed, even after the amputation of one of his legs, he steadfastly kept writing, including a book just published called Too Soon To Say Goodbye. Buchwald made his name in Paris in the Fifties. After WW2 service, and a GI Bill scholarship , he moved to Paris where he started writing a night-life column for the Paris Herald Tribune. He wrote about celebrities such as Ari Onassis, Gina Lollobrigida, Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso – and was soon almost as well known as they were. He even won a Pulitzer Prize. Altogether he authored more than 30 books, many of them compilations of his columns.
Although a funny writer, Buchwald was not always upbeat or funny. He had a miserable childhood, most of it in an orphanage. He didn’t see his mother, a chronic depressive, for 35 years and he himself admitted to bouts of suicidal depression. But he never let it stop him writing about American politics and the funny side of life, even in the final year when illness put him into a hospice. He refused dialysis treatment, even though he was warned he could be dead in a year. At the hospice he constantly received a parade of celebrity visitors including John Glenn, Ethel Kennedy and Donald Rumsfeld.
He wrote many of his final columns about death and dying. An avid tennis player, he even said he wanted to die at 95 while playing tennis with Agassi! In one of his final columns he insisted he still had time left. It began ‘I am known as The Man Who Wouldn’t Die.’In fact, he added, jesting to the end, he was having a swell time – the best time of his life. Heaven can wait!
In an equally offbeat gesture Buchwald even videotaped his own obit. It went out on the NY Times website just minutes after his death was announced. ‘Hi, I’m Art Buchwald and I just died”, it began.
He then went on to talk about his life. The tape was recorded at Buchwald’s country home at Martha’s Vineyard last July. It is, the NY Times revealed, the first of a whole series of video obits it is planning to record, to be called The Last Word.
Who else, has recorded their own obit, The Times won’t say. Buchwald’s is the first to go online.