Satirist Art Buchwald dies at 81 after 'lap of honour'

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The Independent US

Finally, Art Buchwald is gone. Almost a year after he was admitted to a hospice - only to resume his columns and be released in time to summer on Martha's Vineyard - America's most durable and best loved political humorist has died at the age of 81.

"The last year he had the opportunity for a victory lap and I think he was really grateful for it," said his son Joel, who was with the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist when he died at his Washington home on Wednesday. "He had an opportunity to write his book about his experience and he went out the way he wanted to go, on his own terms."

The book in question, the last of more than 30 Buchwald wrote in a career spanning some 60 years, was Too Soon to Say Goodbye - a typically droll collection of musings on death and the preparation for it - among them the inexplicable delay at Washington's Dulles airport of a plane full of passengers bound for Heaven. It also contained the eulogies prepared by friends for the funeral once confidently expected for early 2006.

Buchwald first made his name on the Paris Herald Tribune in the 1950s, having migrated to the city at the age of 23. His column "Paris After Dark" acquired almost legendary status. In 1962, he returned to the US.

Quickly, he became the capital's resident political satirist. His twice-weekly columns, syndicated to more than 500 papers, were a regular highlight of The Washington Post.

Behind the humour lay a life with its share of problems and hardship. He never knew his mother because she was institutionalised shortly after his birth.

He joked once he had contemplated committing suicide, only to abandon the idea "because I was afraid I wouldn't make it into The New York Times obituaries".