The reader may be wondering why I'm making such a big deal about my 80th birthday.

I'll explain it. When you reach 80, a lot of people think you are dead. Some assume it; others heard it from someone who assumed it -- and still others couldn't care less.

I first heard rumblings one afternoon at the Tysons Corner shopping mall. A lady came up to me and said, "Are you Art Buchwald?"

"Yes."

"I thought you were dead."

I replied, "Well, you can see I am not dead."

She said, "Hmm" and walked away.

It is more hurtful when your death appears in print.

One day I received a letter from a young student who said he had been studying me in class and his teacher said I was dead. She quoted the date of my death from Scholastic magazine.

The student was writing because he had just seen me on television. He wanted to know how I could be on television if I were dead.

I wrote a letter for the boy to read in class: "Dear Student: Just because you see it in print that I am dead does not necessarily make it true. I am very happy to be alive.

"When a magazine, without checking two sources, prints that I am dead, it not only causes mental anguish but also hurts me financially. I give a lot of speeches to colleges, and they won't hire me if they think I don't exist anymore. I am writing to Scholastic and telling them to knock it off."

Not only do people think I'm dead, but I make the mistake of thinking others are dead as well.

Whenever I meet one of my buddies from World War II, the conversation goes like this:

"Have you heard from Jake?"

"Didn't you hear? He died last December."

"No wonder he didn't send me a Christmas card. You heard Riley has Alzheimer's, didn't you?"

"I thought he was dead."

Casting a play is a matter of life or death. I wrote one called "Sheep on the Runway."

The actor playing the ambassador, the lead role, got sick in Philadelphia and we had to replace him.

The producer, the director and the writer all gathered in a suite to discuss someone to take his place.

A name came up and someone asked, "Is he still alive?"

"Call his agent and find out."

The director made the call and after a minute he said to the room, "He's dead."

We went through the possible replacements. At the end of the session we found six dead, three working and five "not sure."

I am making a big deal about my 80th birthday, and I consider it a badge of honor that I should wear proudly on my wool underwear.

Let people think what they want to. The lady in the mall may not have changed her mind, but it is her right to decide who's alive and who isn't, as long as she doesn't commit homicide.

To sum up, don't be surprised if you see me in a mall. If you do, say hello.

(c) 2005 Tribune Media Services