Columnist Art Buchwald dead at 81
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Art Buchwald, who took humorous jabs at Washington politicians in syndicated columns for decades, has died, a close friend said Thursday. He was 81.
Buchwald died late Wednesday, said CNN anchor Kyra Phillips. Buchwald was her mentor for 18 years, and she became a close friend of the family. The unofficial cause of death, she said, was kidney failure.
She said Buchwald’s son and daughter-in-law were at his side, “holding his hand. He passed away peacefully.”
“In the last few weeks, he knew it was his time,” she said. “He said his good-byes to everybody.”
That included his colleagues at the Washington Post, which published his columns after he moved to Washington in the 1960s.
Buchwald suffered a stroke in 2000, and was plagued by kidney and circulation problems, which led doctors to amputate one of his legs below the knee.
He checked into a Washington hospice February 7 after he chose to quit life-prolonging kidney dialysis. His last treatment was February 1. However, Phillips said Thursday that he continued to make hospital visits because of minor infections from the amputation.
He planned his funeral when he went to the hospice.
“I went to the hospice to die,” he told Phillips in November. But he defied the odds, and in July he was flown to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, to spend the summer.
“I had two decisions. Continue dialysis and that’s boring to do three times a week, and I don’t know where that’s going, or I can just enjoy life and see where it takes me,” he told writer Suzette Martinez Standring, who spent two days with him in late February.
Writing about near-death experience
He resumed writing, including a book about his near-death experience.
Buchwald launched his career as a columnist in 1949 in Paris, where he wrote about the light side of Paris nightlife in the European edition of the New York Herald Tribune. He returned to the United States around 1962 and moved to Washington, where he began writing columns filled with political satire for The Washington Post.
Some of Buchwald’s observations:
During the Watergate scandal, Buchwald explained that the sound in the 18 1/2-minute gap in the White House tapes actually was Nixon humming.
“Just when you think there’s nothing to write about, Nixon says, ‘I am not a crook.’ Jimmy Carter says, ‘I have lusted after women in my heart.’ President Reagan says, ‘I have just taken a urinalysis test, and I am not on dope.'”
“Have you ever seen a candidate talking to a rich person on television?”
“Every time you think television has hit its lowest ebb, a new program comes along to make you wonder where you thought the ebb was.”
Pulitzer Prize for commentary
Buchwald won a Pulitzer Prize for outstanding commentary in 1982, and in 1986 was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He began writing columns, later syndicated, for The Washington Post in the late 1960s.
The humorist authored dozens of books, including two memoirs, “Leaving Home” (1993) and “I’ll Always Have Paris” (1996). He also wrote “Paris After Dark” (1950), “Son of the Great Society” (1961), “Washington Is Leaking” (1976) and “While Reagan Slept” (1983).
Buchwald and producer Alain Bernheim filed a lawsuit in 1988 against Paramount Pictures, contending the company used Buchwald’s script idea as the basis for the movie “Coming to America,” without giving them credit or profits. Buchwald won the case.
Despite his ill health, Buchwald enjoyed his friends and social events, and celebrated his 80th birthday in 2005 at the French Embassy in Washington.
‘The patron saint of political satire’
According to Standring, Buchwald had a parade of celebrity visitors, including several members of the Kennedy family, and he still loved to joke with people.
Standring visited Buchwald to present him with the 2006 Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, calling him the “patron saint of political satire.”
The writer acknowledged that Buchwald likely wouldn’t be alive by June, when the organization’s meeting will be held.
According to Buchwald’s assistant, Cathy Crary, her boss wrote three columns a week until about 1995, and penned two weekly until January.
Buchwald, she said, always has been humble and accessible.
Listed in the phone book
“He’s listed in the phone directory and always has been. People see his name and can’t believe it’s the real Art Buchwald, but that’s how he is,” Crary said.
Buchwald was born in Mount Vernon, New York, where he and his two sisters spent their youths in foster homes, according to The Washington Post. His mother was committed to an asylum soon after he was born.
The writer suffered two bouts of depression. The last episode, in the 1980s, resulted from the breakup of his long marriage. He has a son, Joel, and a daughter, Jennifer, who lives in Massachusetts, but has been staying in Washington.
“Buchwald doesn’t see himself as courageous, nor does he feel shored up by supernatural spiritual strength,” Shandring said. “To fade away naturally is the decision he made when faced with the alternative of being hooked up to a dialysis machine three times a week, for five hours at a stretch for the rest of his life.”
Columnist Art Buchwald dead at 81