Remembering Art Buchwald

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Theo Westenberger / Getty

Art Buchwald in 1993.

When I interviewed Art Buchwald for TIME last May, he was working on a book which he called The Man Who Wouldn't Die. The longtime Washington columnist had been told that his days were numbered after refusing dialysis treatments for his failing kidneys. But he didn't die, and returned home, continuing to write. Clearly he found it enormously amusing to catch the medical profession flat-footed. He was a little pale when I saw him, but his voice was strong and his mind was as sharp as the day we'd met back in the 1970s, when he had stopped by the Newsweek office where I then worked, to crack jokes with Mel Elfin, the Newsweek bureau chief, and flirt with Amanda Zimmerman, Elfin's stunning assistant.

While I was waiting a few weeks for my interview with Art to be published in TIME, he called up to say that his editors found his working title too gloomy. The new title was, Too Soon to Say Goodbye. He got a kick out of their squeamishness when talking about death. He had, after all, faced death, his beloved wife's, and his own. At his age (80) and with his success, marketing the next of his thirtysomething books wasn't really one of his priorities.

I was delighted to hear that Art made to Martha's Vineyard one more time. He threatened to get back on the tennis courts. That wasn't in the cards, since he hadn't quite mastered his new leg, but over the years, I'd often seen him whacking tennis balls around the Vineyard Haven yacht club courts. Other players might be dressed in stuffy new whites, but Art, an utterly unpretentious man, favored a ratty old hat and baggy shorts that looked as if they might drop to his ankles at any moment.

What we'll all miss most about Art Buchwald is his wisdom. Yes, he had a gift for describing the human comedy. But at bottom he was a courageous, graceful and insightful man who just happened to be a great raconteur.