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Randy Pausch, 47; Professor Gave Inspiring 'Last Lecture'

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Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist whose 'last lecture' about facing terminal cancer became an Internet sensation and a best-selling book, died Friday. He was 47. Video by AP

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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 26, 2008

Randy Pausch, a prominent computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University who became an instant sensation far beyond the classroom last year when he delivered his inspiring "Last Lecture," knowing he had only months to live, died July 25 at his home in Chesapeake, Va. He was 47.

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In 2006, Dr. Pausch, who grew up in Columbia, learned that he had pancreatic cancer. He had experimental treatments to stop the spread of the disease, but in August he was told nothing more could be done. On Sept. 18, at an auditorium on Carnegie Mellon's campus in Pittsburgh, he presented his famous lecture, which has since been viewed online by more than 10 million people and has become a bestselling book.

Dr. Pausch joked that the university's "Last Lecture" series -- in which professors imparted lessons from a lifetime of teaching and learning -- was a particularly apt title in his case. He opened his 76-minute talk with ominous images of his CAT scans, showing tumors on his liver. Doctors told him he had three to six months of good health left.

"That was a month ago," he said. "You do the math."

To prove he was otherwise in excellent condition, the trim Dr. Pausch snapped off several push-ups, clapping his hands together at the apex.

He said his lecture would not touch on his illness, his family or religion. Instead, he focused on his childhood dreams and how to help others achieve their dreams. Using humor and a slide show, he described his groundbreaking work in virtual reality and how he was able to accomplish his lifelong ambitions: to win stuffed animals at carnivals; to float in zero gravity; to work for the Disney team of "imagineers"; to write an entry for the World Book Encyclopedia; and -- the only dream he didn't fulfill -- to play in the NFL.

A Wall Street Journal reporter and Carnegie Mellon alumnus, Jeffrey Zaslow, was in the audience of more than 400 and wrote an article about the "Last Lecture."

"It was electric in that room," he told Britain's Independent newspaper in March. "I knew it affected everyone that was there. But I could not have foreseen what followed, even in my wildest dreams."

Dr. Pausch was named ABC News's Person of the Week, gave an abbreviated lecture on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and spent a day in practice with the Pittsburgh Steelers, to achieve his final unmet goal.

Soon after delivering his lecture, Dr. Pausch moved to Chesapeake to be closer to his wife's family. He and Zaslow expanded the lecture into a book and sold the rights for $6.7 million. "The Last Lecture" is now a No. 1 bestseller.

In his amiable, often humorous lecture, Dr. Pausch praised the old-fashioned virtues of honesty, hard work and apologizing for one's mistakes.

"You get people to help you by telling the truth, by being earnest," he said. "I'll take an earnest person over a hip person every day because hip is short-term. Earnest is long-term."


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