Columnist Art Buchwald Dies At 81

Art Buchwald
GETTY IMAGES/Evan Agostini
Newspaper columnist Art Buchwald, who chronicled the life and times of Washington with an infectious wit for more than four decades and endeared himself to many with his never-say-die battle with failing kidneys, is dead at 81.

Buchwald's son, Joel, who was with his father, disclosed the satirist's death, saying he had passed away quietly at his home late Wednesday with his family.

Buchwald had refused dialysis treatments for his failing kidneys last year and was expected to die within weeks of moving to a hospice on Feb. 7. But he lived to return home and even write a book about his experiences.

"The last year he had the opportunity for a victory lap and I think he was really grateful for it," Joel Buchwald said. "He had an opportunity to write his book about his experience and he went out the way he wanted to go, on his own terms."

Neither Buchwald nor his doctors could explain how he survived in such grave condition, and he didn't seem to mind.

The unexpected lease on life gave Buchwald time for an extended and extraordinarily public goodbye, as he held court daily in a hospice salon with a procession of family, friends and acquaintances.

"I loved every minute of it," he told CBS News correspondent Rita Braver in an interview in December.

"If I had my dialysis, no one would have known I was sick. Or I had a kidney problem, and nobody would come visit me. Since I didn't take dialysis, everybody wanted to come and see me. And it was one of those things where 'You gotta see Artie." So pretty soon people in television and newspapers and on the radio all said, 'Hey, Buchwald's dying in a hospice. Go over there. It could be a good story.'"

Often called "The Wit of Washington" during his years here, Buchwald's name became synonymous with political satire. He was well known, too, for his wide smile and affinity for cigars.

CBS News' Mike Wallace, a close friend for 50 years, said Buchwald "wanted to make people laugh, he wanted to make people think. He was kind, he was gentle, he was funny. They don't come more interesting or better than Art Buchwald."

Buchwald's humor grew out of a childhood spent partly in foster homes, CBS News correspondent Bill Plante reports. He was so unhappy, he ran away and joined the Marines at 16.

Buchwald built his career in Paris, where he wrote his first column in the European edition of the New York Herald Tribune in 1949. He returned to the United States in 1962 and began a long second career spoofing the Washington elite in his syndicated column. He won the Pulitzer Prize, U.S. journalism's top prize, for commentary in 1982.

Among his more famous witticisms: "If you attack the establishment long enough and hard enough, they will make you a member of it."