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The man who won international fame for his so-called last lecture has died at age 47. Randy Pausch was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. He turned his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer into that lecture, and then, a bestselling book. It all began when Pausch was told he had only months to live. His attitude toward death and his celebration of life inspired millions around the world.
NPR's Lynn Neary has this remembrance.
LYNN NEARY: Randy Pausch was, by all accounts, a happy man - attractive, charismatic and blessed with a good marriage and three kids. On campus, Pausch was a popular computer science professor known for developing courses that drew students from the arts, computer science and engineering. So when Pausch was asked to give a talk for a lecture series called Journeys, no one was surprised that it was standing-room only.
The idea behind the series was for professors to speak to their students as if it were their last lecture. In Pausch's case, it really was. And he began by showing the audience scans of his liver tumors and explaining his grim diagnosis.
Mr. RANDY PAUSCH (Professor, Carnegie Mellon University): That is what it is, we can't change it, and we just have to decide how we're going to respond to that. We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand. If I don't seem as depressed or morose as I should be, sorry to disappoint you.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NEARY: Pausch went on to say he wasn't going to talk about his cancer. Instead, he wanted to talk about his life and the lessons he had learned while growing up. Peter Lee, head of the Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon, was in the audience that night.
Professor PETER LEE (Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon): You left that lecture hall just wanting to share this with everybody in the world. And it is just one of the situations where very few times in your life, you experience something where you want everyone in the world to see this.
NEARY: Wall Street Journal reporter Jeffrey Zaslow was also in the audience. He wrote a piece about the lecture and posted a video of it on the Wall Street Journal Web site.
Mr. JEFFREY ZASLOW (Reporter, The Wall Street Journal): That spread so fast, with people saying they were so touched, that I knew he was going to sort of move the world. It began so flick-lightning fast.
NEARY: Eventually, Zaslow collaborated with Pausch on the book "The Last Lecture." None of the lessons in the last lecture are startlingly new, but Pausch had a way of taking a cliche — like running into brick walls - and imbuing it with new meaning.
Mr. PAUSCH: The brick walls are not there to keep us out, the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don't want it badly enough.
NEARY: In the end, Zaslow says, Pausch's ability to embrace life even as he faced death was a lesson in itself.
Mr. ZASLOW: He lived with such bravado and such love of everybody in his life and just the idea of everything life has to offer. But he also showed, you know, we're all drying, his fate or our fate, it's just sped up. And so, I think he showed us when our time comes, you know, we should have a little bit of Randy inside of us.
NEARY: Pausch is survived by his wife and three children, for whom he has said his last lecture is his final legacy.
Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.
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