Political humorist Art Buchwald dies at 81

By David Alexander
Thursday, January 18, 2007; 3:33 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Art Buchwald, who chronicled night life in postwar Paris, took aim at Washington's powerful, and merrily cheated death for months in a hospice, has died at age 81.

Buchwald, who had kidney failure, refused dialysis early last year and entered a hospice expecting to die within weeks. But his room became a gathering place for family and old friends and he survived to write a book on the experience, "Too Soon to Say Goodbye," which was published in November.

"Whether they like it or not, everyone is going to go," he wrote in March 2006. "The big question we still have to ask is not where we're going, but what were we doing here in the first place?"

Buchwald died 11:20 p.m. on Wednesday night at his Washington home, said his son Joel Buchwald, with whom he had lived for most of the past eight years.

"Art was the Mark Twain of our time," said Sen. Edward Kennedy. "For decades there was no better way to start the day than to open the morning paper to Art's column, laugh out loud and learn all over again to take the issues seriously in the world of politics, but not take yourself too seriously."

Buchwald made light of his hospice stay, writing in his column last March that he was known there as "The Man Who Wouldn't Die."

"In case you're wondering, I'm having a swell time -- the best time of my life," he wrote.

A newspaper humorist whose column was syndicated to more than 550 newspapers at one point, Buchwald won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1982. He also published some 45 books.

The foster son of a curtain manufacturer, Joseph Buchwald, he grew up in the Queens borough of New York City. He never graduated from high school and left home at 17 to join the Marines, serving with the Fourth Marine Air Wing in the Pacific Theater during World War Two.


After his discharge in 1945, Buchwald enrolled at the University of Southern California, where he wrote for the campus magazine and newspaper.

He left USC in 1948 without earning a degree and went to Paris, where he worked as a correspondent for Variety Magazine. In January 1949, he took a sample column he called "Paris After Dark" to the offices of the European edition of The New York Herald Tribune.

The column, filled with offbeat stories of Parisian night life, earned Buchwald a job at the newspaper. His column caught on and he launched a second, "Mostly About People," in 1951. The two were eventually fused into a single column called "Europe's Lighter Side."

Buchwald could find a touch of the absurd most anywhere -- but seemed to find his most fertile ground in the U.S. capital, where he set up shop in 1962 upon returning to the United States.

"All I am concerned with is making fun of them. I have no intention of worrying about what is good for the country," Buchwald told Reuters in a 1987 interview while promoting his book "I Think I Don't Remember."

The title was from a column he did after President Ronald Reagan said he could not recall signing an executive order permitting the covert sale of U.S. arms to Iran.

Buchwald said he couldn't recall whether the work was his 23rd or 24th book. He wrote some 45 in all, including "I'll Always Have Paris" (Putnam, 1995), "Stella in Heaven: Almost a Novel" (Putnam, 2000) and a collection of newspaper columns, "Beating Around the Bush" (Seven Stories, 2005).

While his humor touched on all aspects of human foible and folly, politicians were a beloved and recurrent target:

"Nixon was the best because we had Watergate," he said in 1987. "When he said 'I am not a crook' I put him in the Hall of Fame for presidents. I would give Nixon an 11 out of 10 for presidents."

(Additional reporting by Todd Eastham)

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