Checking in with Art Buchwald Renowned writer and humorist Art Buchwald is now best known for being not quite dead. In January, he decided to refuse dialysis for kidney failure and await death in a Washington hospice. Months later, he's still around and off to Martha's Vineyard.
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Checking in with Art Buchwald

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Checking in with Art Buchwald

Checking in with Art Buchwald

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

And now a story about one heck of a last act. Six months ago the columnist Art Buchwald faced a decision. His doctors said he needed to go on dialysis again. Without it, they said, he'd die within weeks. Buchwald said no. He'd already had a leg amputated and he didn't want to spend what was left of his life hooked up to a machine. So he put his affairs in order, moved into a Washington, D.C., hospice and began to wait.

Buchwald had spent a lifetime making people laugh, and as the days turned into weeks, which stretched into months, Buchwald used the same wit and wisdom to help a steady stream of friends and family say goodbye. Well, apparently, laughter is pretty good medicine, because Art Buchwald is still holding court.

We too stopped by his hospice this week. When we arrived Buchwald was sitting in a wheeled recliner, sipping an orange drink and watching cable television. Of all things, a 1965 film, The Loved One', a black comedy about the funeral business. How is he feeling?

Mr. ART BUCHWALD (Writer and humorist): I'm feeling pretty good apparently, because I was intending to go to heaven and now it turns out I'm going to Martha's Vineyard.

NORRIS: This weekend?

Mr. BUCHWALD: Yeah, this weekend, and everybody is surprised because they all came here the last six months to say goodbye to me. And now they wonder what the heck is going on.

NORRIS: Tomorrow, the 80-year old Buchwald heads for his vacation home. After preparing for death, life is now a series of readjustments.

Mr. BUCHWALD: I planned on a funeral. I planned on a memorial service. I planned on everybody coming to say goodbye to me. And this didn't happen. So now I am in a different world where I'm going to be around. So I have to make a lot of plans that I didn't want to make. I got to get used to global warming again and I got to get used to Bush. When I was ready to go and die, I didn't care what happened to Bush.

NORRIS: His cheeky observation earned Buchwald a Pulitzer Prize. He has continued to write his column twice a week and through his illness he has taken a humorous but always candid look at death.

Mr. BUCHWALD: So what you do when you come towards the end of your life, particularly if you're older, you say, was it a good life? Should I do something? Are people there that will remember me? You do your own evaluation of who you are, what you wear and everything.

NORRIS: And people have been there for Buchwald, lots of people and lots of boldfaced names. Television stars, politicians, several Kennedys, even the Ambassador to France, And of course, his three children and five grandchildren.

Mr. BUCHWALD: You don't get a chance to really talk to your children or talk about them, but if they come to see you for an hour or two hours everyday, depending on it, you certainly get to know them a lot more than before and you learn who they are. And a lot of us were so busy trying to be big shots that we didn't pay too much attention to our children. The ones that didn't do that are now making up for it as much as possible.

NORRIS: They must ask you a lot of questions.

Mr. BUCHWALD: They ask questions. They ask about you. We just don't know much about each other until something comes up like this.

NORRIS: At a time like this, food brings special comfort. So, friends have arrived bearing all kinds of treats, cheesecake, Chinese take-out, roast beef sandwiches. Buchwald loves the attention and the gifts, and he knows this, those who visit want something too.

Mr. BUCHWALD: I was very happy to see people because hey, I'm okay. Somebody likes me. Somebody wants to see me. And they in effect said, he's not afraid of death and that should make it easier for us.

NORRIS: You have been so brave through all of this, but do you have any fears?

Mr. BUCHWALD: Fears? I guess we all do. We all have fears. We wouldn't be human beings if we didn't have fears. I'll be very honest with you, I'm a little frightened about going to Martha's Vineyard. It's a whole different lifestyle. I hadn't planned on going up there with one leg, and it's scary. I'm going to do it. I have a lot of support, too. We all have to have somebody that we love and that will take care of us and it counts.

NORRIS: Fears or not, tomorrow, Art Buchwald will head to the island he never thought he'd see again. He is no longer signing up people to speak or sing at his funeral. He is now writing a book about dying. And he is writing his future in pencil.

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