After a debilitating struggle with kidney failure, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and author Art Buchwald has passed away at the age of 81. Although there was nothing funny about his final days — after his 2000 stroke and consequent kidney and circulation problems, one of his legs had to amputated below the knee — he continued to write with his trademark humor up to the end. Best known as a satirical political columnist for The Washington Post, Buchwald began his career as a nightlife chronicler for the European edition of the New York Herald Tribune. Stationed in Paris, he returned to the States in 1961 to write for the Post. His politically and socially-minded work won him a Pulitzer for commentary in 1982, and he was also the brains behind a series of wry books and memoirs, including I’ll Always Have Paris! and Too Soon to Say Goodbye, about his hospice experience.
In Hollywood circles, Buchwald was best known for his landmark lawsuit against Paramount Pictures over the royalties from a screenplay about an African prince who visits the U.S. for the first time, which evolved at Paramount into the uber-successful Eddie Murphy vehicle Coming To America. When the studio claimed it wasn’t Buchwald’s plot and that the 1988 film hadn’t made a profit, he (and producer Alain Bernheim) successfully sued for breach of contract, quipping at time, “At the moment, the picture has made between $350 to $400 million, but there are no profits. It is now our job to go out there and find some. Maybe they forgot. They may have left them in the park, or they may have left them in a boat, [but] we’ll find it somewhere.” The suit became a master class in the chicanery of Hollywood’s mysterious accounting practices, and it gave Buchwald even more fodder for jokes and gags.
Rest in peace.
UPDATE: “Hi, I’m Art Buchwald, and I just died.” The ever-innovative columnist inaugurates The New York Times‘ new video obituary feature with an interview taped last summer.
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