American columnist Art Buchwald, who took humorous jabs at Washington politicians for decades, died Wednesday at the age of 81. He'd been in a hospice for nearly a year, having decided to forego dialysis treatment for kidney disease.
Satirist, social commentator and author of 30 books, Buchwald was a humorist before he became a writer. "[When I was] about 8 years old," he recalled last year, "I made the kids in class laugh, I made fun of the establishment, the principal, the teachers, and from then on, I was always making people laugh." He observed, "When you're a kid, they beat you over the head [for making fun]. When you grow up, they pay you large sums of money to do the same thing!"
Not just money, but awards, as well. Buchwald received the Pulitzer Prize for Outstanding Commentary in 1982, and in 1986 was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
During a career spanning more than half a century, Art Buchwald wrote over 8000 columns that appeared regularly in about 300 newspapers around the world. At its height, Buchwald's column was carried by 550 papers.
Any politician was fair game for his razor-sharp wit and often-hilarious satire. "I'm against whoever's in power," he confided, admitting that personally, he was neither a Democrat nor a Republican. "If you're in power, you're dangerous... I don't pick on them as people, I pick on them in regards to a situation."
Buchwald used his column to speak out against President Bush's decision to invade Iraq. "I believe unilateral war is not any good for us or for the world. So I write about that, and I have good reason to write about it because it's scary. We're sending [a lot of] troops over there, boats, everything, and yet nobody really knows what we're gonna do once we get in and once we get out."
He wanted his words to make people think, not just laugh. "I try to come in from the side, not from the front," he explained. "I make up things, as you say, fantasy. But when people read it, they say, 'it could happen, it could happen.'"
During an appearance on VOA's Talk to America in 2002, Art Buchwald said he never planned to retire. The reason? He didn't play golf; "and if you don't play golf, what else are you going to do but keep working? I'll do it as long as they let me do it. I have to keep a level up, because when you've done it as long as I, a lot of people think you're dead."
And he did keep writing, even after being diagnosed with kidney failure. Last February, he decided to forego dialysis, which could prolong his life. "It was a tough decision," he admitted, because it affected other people, including family. "But I made it, I was relieved. It was over, the decision was made."
What started as a three-week deathwatch in a hospice stretched out to nearly a year, surprising everyone including Buchwald. During that time, he continued doing what he loved most - writing his newspaper column, entertaining visitors, reading fan mail, and giving interviews. And, he wrote a book, which was published in November. It's called, Too Soon to Say Goodbye.