MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And we say goodbye now to a public radio original. David Rakoff died last night in New York City after a long struggle with cancer. NPR's Neda Ulaby has this remembrance.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: David Rakoff started on "This American Life" with an essay about playing Sigmund Freud, of all things, in a Christmas display in the window an upscale department store.

DAVID RAKOFF: In the window, I fantasized about starting an entire Christmas Freud movement. Christmas Freuds everywhere, providing grownups and children alike with the greatest gift of all: insight.

ULABY: Rakoff was born in Montreal. He studied East Asian literature and was diagnosed with lymphoma at 22. He recovered and wrote a fan letter to humorist David Sedaris. That led to "This American Life," an Oscar-winning short film and best-selling collections of essays, all shaped, he said, by his identity as a gay Jewish Canadian.

Rakoff was diagnosed with cancer while writing his last book. It's a defense of pessimism and melancholy. He read from "Half Empty" on NPR a few years ago.

RAKOFF: (reading) I loathed being a child. Plainly stated, being a child was not, as used to be said around the time that I was a child, my bag. Everyone has an internal age, a time in life when one is if not one's best then at very least one's most authentic self.

I always felt that my internal clock was calibrated somewhere between 47 and 53 years old.

ULABY: David Rakoff was only 47 when he died, just barely the age he was meant to be. In one of his last appearances in May, David Rakoff and some other "This American Life" contributors were onstage in New York City. By then, Rakoff had lost the use of his arm to cancer. He talked about the pleasure he once took in the rigorous study of modern dance.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAKOFF: You become this altered, humming, dare I say beautiful, working instrument of placement and form and concentration. But like I said, that's a long time ago and a version of myself that has long since ceased to exist. Before I became such an observer - I'm sorry.

ULABY: Rakoff was not able to finish. He just stood there on stage. But then he did something wonderful: he danced gracefully, always gracefully. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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