Art Buchwald provides his own online obituary

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NEW YORK – Even in death, Art Buchwald had the last laugh.

The comic columnist’s passing had no sooner been announced Thursday – nearly a year later than his doctors had predicted – than a video of him appeared on The New York Times Web site.

“Hi, I’m Art Buchwald and I just died,” the humorist says, an impish smile playing across his face.

The video, recorded last year at Buchwald’s summer home on Martha’s Vineyard, is the first in a series of online obituaries to be made public by the Times. The newspaper said it has recorded more than 10 interviews with the famous and powerful, including a former president, that will remain unseen until the person’s death.

In the 14-minute video, Buchwald, who was 81, reflects on how his ability to make people laugh helped him compensate for an unhappy childhood.

“If you can make people laugh, you get all the love you want,” he says.

Not to be outdone, Buchwald’s syndicate, Tribune Media Services, released his farewell column, which Buchwald wrote 11 months ago for publication after his death. At the time, he was in a Washington, D.C., hospice, having elected to forgo debilitating kidney dialysis treatments.

“What’s interesting is that everybody has his or her own opinion as to how you should go out,” he wrote, striking an uncharacteristically serious note. “All my loved ones became very upset because they thought I should brave it out – which meant more dialysis.

“But here is the most important thing: This has been my decision. And it’s a healthy one.”

Buchwald did not die on schedule. His doctor had told him that without dialysis, he would probably not last more than three weeks. That was in February.

Five months later, after a steady stream of visitors from among the highest ranks of Washington’s political and journalistic elite, Buchwald was still alive, still cracking jokes. He moved to the weathered, gray-shingled house on Martha’s Vineyard where he and his family had summered since the mid-1960s.

That’s where he granted an interview with the Tribune. He had resumed writing his newspaper column, and he had just polished off what would prove to be the last of more than 30 books, “Too Soon To Say Goodbye.”

Over the course of the next 45 minutes, he reflected on his improbable life, from his start as an unhappy foster child in New York City, to a 14-year stint as a Paris-based humor and night-life columnist, and then his four decades as a widely read political satirist in Washington.

Given that run of luck, he said, his decision not to continue dialysis treatments was straightforward.

“I’ve done it all, I’ve had a good life,” he said, speaking slowly and with difficulty. “Why should I want to stick around?”

He sat on the enclosed back porch of his house, his legs propped up on an ottoman. Because of a circulatory problem, his right leg had been amputated below the knee. His artificial leg, wearing a white sock and a black walking shoe that matched the ones on his left foot, stood near the screen door.

The loss of his leg meant that he was dependent on others. That had sealed his decision to accept death, whenever it decided to come.

Not that he couldn’t see a bright side to his condition.

“Everyone wants to know what I want to eat,” Buchwald said, popping sugar-free candy into his mouth. “I get the best seats at any sporting event, and the best of all is, I get parking. I don’t drive, but I get parking stickers. And when I speak now, funny enough, people listen.”

Toward the end of the interview, Buchwald noted that his wife Ann was buried in a nearby cemetery, as was his friend John Hersey, author of “Hiroshima.” And someday, he would join them.

But first, he wanted to be cremated.

“And I want some of my ashes to be taken up in an airplane and scattered on all the cocktail parties on Martha’s Vineyard,” he said, cracking a wide grin.

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