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Humorist Buchwald Dies at 81

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We take a few minutes now to remember humor columnist Art Buchwald. He died late yesterday after a long and very public illness. For the last year of his life, Buchwald seemed to thwart death, and he delighted in his unexpected lease on life. He was suffering from kidney failure and needed dialysis treatments, which he refused - at which point, doctors told him he had just a few weeks to live.

Mr. ART BUCHWALD (Humor Columnist): I planned on a funeral. I planned on a memorial service. I planned on everybody coming to say goodbye to me. And this just happened.

MONTAGNE: That's Art Buchwald, in an interview last June with NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. For more than four decades, Buchwald entertained readers with his take on life inside the Washington Beltway. His satiric columns earned him the nickname the Wit of Washington. And he won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1982.

Art Buchwald did not have a particularly happy childhood. His father went broke during the Depression, and his mother was institutionalized shortly after his birth, leaving Art and his siblings to shuttle between orphanages and foster homes. But he had a gift, as he told NPR in a 1994 interview.

Mr. BUCHWALD: While I was living then, I don't think I said this is rotten. I did discover early in life I could make people laugh, and that what change my life. Because as long I could make them laugh, I could get a lot of love.

MONTAGNE: This past year, Art Buchwald got a lot of love. In the last year of his life, he visited with family and friends, and he wrote a book about his experience. His son, Joel, said: The last year, he had the opportunity for a victory lap, and I think he was really grateful for it. He went out of the way. He wanted to - he went out the way he wanted to go, on his own terms.

When Art Buchwald died at home yesterday, he was 81 years old.

You can hear more conversations with columnist Art Buchwald and read about his life and career at our Web site, npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.