Cheating Death: Art Buchwald, With Admiration

Beth Brophy Health Guide
  • Ever since I heard him on a radio show last winter, talking about his decision to opt out of dialysis and instead move into a hospice and die, I’ve been rooting for legendary newspaper columnist and humorist Art Buchwald, who died this week of kidney failure, nearly a year after his doctors told him he had only a few weeks to live. He was 81.

    I admired his courageous decision, which he spoke about on the radio. He had lived long enough, he said, and the dialysis process, more than nine hours several times a week hooked up to machines, was unappealing to him. Although his three grown children at first were not happy with his decision, they were supportive of it, as were his doctors. In this day of superhuman efforts to prolong life, at any cost, he was simply choosing quality of life over quantity. It was so simple to him, yet so brave. In addition, Buchwald was immensely enjoying his stay at the hospice, surrounded by a never-ending stream of loving friends and relatives, who came to hang out and chat, and brought him his favorite foods. Overweight for much of his life, Buchwald reported that he was eating whatever he wanted without guilt.
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    And then, as was fitting for a man whose life was defined by overcoming personal obstacles to make others laugh, he got the last laugh by cheating death. For reasons his doctors couldn’t explain, Buchwald became a medical miracle. He lost a leg to amputation, but he didn’t die in a matter of weeks. He left the hospice, resumed writing his syndicated column, often using his imminent death as a subject, got to enjoy a final summer holding court in his house on Martha’s Vineyard, a place he loved, and even wrote and published a book--he had already written more than 30 of them-- about his near-death experience, called “Too Soon to Say Goodbye.”

    Not too many people say, as Buchwald did, that “I never realized dying was so much fun.” He called his last year “the best time of my life.” And what a life he had. Although he periodically suffered from bouts of depression, he was an enthusiast about his career, his family, his social circle, and tennis. He wrote newspaper columns from Paris, Washington, and New York City, syndicated in more than 500 newspapers. He won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1982. Through a lawsuit over a screenplay he wrote, he changed the way Hollywood did its accounting. His death, and the choices he made, were as inspiring as his wonderful life. Even with the extra time he got, it is still too soon to say goodbye.

    Read the Washington Post's and New York Times's appreciation of Art Buchwald.
Published On: January 23, 2007