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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 January 2007, 18:11 GMT
Obituary: Art Buchwald
Art Buchwald in a February 2005 file photo
Art Buchwald continued to joke even as he was dying
Art Buchwald, the prize-winning US writer who has died at the age of 81, was among the best loved and most widely read columnists of his age.

At his peak in the early 1970s, his column appeared in more than 500 newspapers in the US and abroad.

He was known for his wit, which was sharp but never cruel, and which aimed to deflate the rich and powerful.

Richard Nixon was a favourite target, with Buchwald saying he worshipped "the very quicksand he walks on".

Buchwald was born in New York in 1925 to a mother who was institutionalised soon after and whom he never saw again, although she lived for another 35 years.

The writer said he suffered bouts of depression and occasionally felt suicidal, which he believed could have been linked to his mother.

But he managed to find humour even in his mental condition, saying if he had another bout of depression, he would be "inducted into the Bipolar Hall of Fame".

California to Paris

Buchwald spent several years in an orphanage as a child after his father's business failed, but was reunited with his father and sisters as a young child.

He joined the marines at 17, having lied about his age, and then attended the University of Southern California, having failed to mention that he never graduated from high school.

By all rights I should have finished my time [in hospice] five or six weeks ago - at least that's all Medicare would pay for
Art Buchwald on his final illness

He then left for Paris because he wanted to "stuff myself with baguettes and snails, fill my pillow with rejection slips and find a French girl named Mimi who believed I was the greatest writer in the world", the New York Times quoted him as saying.

He quickly became one of the most visible, joining the Herald Tribune newspaper and writing a column called Paris After Dark.

A piece he wrote to explain the US Thanksgiving holiday to the French has become the stuff of legend, with its translation of the Pilgrim father Miles Standish's name into French as Kilometres Deboutish.

Many newspapers continued to reprint the column each Thanksgiving for years after it first appeared in the early 1950s.

He rubbed elbows with the jet set in Paris, but maintained an everyman persona in his writing - although he joked that he had not been invited to the wedding of Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly because of a family feud that had prevented the Buchwalds and the Grimaldis from speaking "since 9 January, 1297".

Coming to America

He left Paris for Washington in 1962, after 14 years abroad, fearing he was becoming stale and suspecting Washington headlines would make a better target for his wit.

Back home he continued to write columns which he regularly collected as books, as well as two memoirs, a play and two novels.

He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1982.

I just don't want to die the same day Castro dies
Art Buchwald on assuring his death made headlines

In the early 1990s, he sued Paramount Pictures, claiming the idea for the Eddie Murphy film Coming to America was his.

He won a $900,000 (465,000) judgement - and film companies subsequently began inserting clauses into contracts asserting they did not have to pay writers for original ideas.

The clause is informally known as the Buchwald clause.

The manner of Buchwald's death was as remarkable as his life.

Doctors predicted in February 2006 that he had only weeks left to live due to kidney failure. He had had a leg amputated, and doctors advised regular dialysis.

He refused, and checked into a hospice to die - but did not.

Neither he nor his doctors could explain his survival, but he checked out of the hospice in the summer of 2006 and even published a final book, Too Soon to Say Goodbye.

In the book, he recounts a dream about leaving for heaven from Washington's Dulles Airport.

He asks about getting frequent flyer miles, but is assured he doesn't need them because he isn't coming back.

But in the end, the flight is delayed - just as his own death was.

He frequently joked about his desire to have a big obituary, friends including Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post noted.

"I just don't want to die the same day that [Cuban President Fidel] Castro dies," Bradlee remembers him saying.


SEE ALSO
US satirist Buchwald dies aged 81
18 Jan 07 |  Americas

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