02/05/2007 at 01:00 AM EST
A little thing like death wasn't going to stop Art Buchwald from having a last laugh. So there he was on the Internet, hours after passing away, telling the world, "Hi, I'm Art Buchwald, and I just died."
Irreverent, of course, but totally in keeping with the humor writer's nearly year-long series of interviews celebrating his own life as a beloved newspaper columnist and his impending demise (including one in this magazine, conducted at a Washington, D.C., hospice last May). When the end finally came, on Jan. 17 from kidney failure, the 81-year-old Buchwald had recorded a brief video for The New York Times (available at www.video.on.nytimes.com). His thoughts? "If you can make people laugh, you're getting all the love you want."
And loved he was—by Washington's elite (including the Kennedys, who invited him to family parties), media heavyweights (Mike Wallace, Walter Cronkite) and just plain folks who read his column, laced with gentle satire and syndicated in some 500 newspapers in its heyday. Says Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes, a neighbor on Martha's Vineyard: "He was one of the most genuinely funny guys this country has ever known."
Born in Mount Vernon, N.Y., and raised in part in foster homes and an orphanage, Buchwald was a Paris columnist for the European edition of the New York Herald Tribune before establishing himself as a Washington institution, beginning in 1962, poking fun at political greed and scandal until diabetes and other ailments claimed his health—but not his sense of humor. "Dying isn't hard," wrote Buchwald, facing his end. "Getting paid by Medicare is."