Diamond in the Rough

updated 04/04/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/04/1994 01:00AM

HE WAS A GOOD OL' BOY TO THE END. Facing his fourth open-heart surgery, Lewis Grizzard, 47, the unreconstructed voice of the South, refused to stop smoking, drinking—or marrying: just two days before the operation, he wed his fourth wife, Dedra Kyle, at the hospital in Atlanta. Told that his chances were slim, Grizzard drawled, "When's the next bus to Albuquerque?"

Sadly, Grizzard missed the bus. On March 20 the syndicated columnist, lecturer and best-selling author died after suffering massive brain damage during the surgery. "He was one of a kind," said editor Ron Martin of The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, the paper that gave the former sports editor his column in the late '70s. "Grizzard could reduce life's complexities to simple lines that made you grateful you weren't the target."

Long before anyone had heard of Rush Limbaugh or Howard Stern, Grizzard was politically incorrect and proud of it. He routinely offended gays and feminists, but also took a dim view of Bible-thumping pro-lifers and televangelists. "What scares me is that we've got so many causes," he said, "and you're not supposed to have any funny ideas about them."

Grizzard had cranky ideas about virtually every aspect of modern life, from his great loves (barbecues) and hates (computers) to his great weakness—women. His three divorces were fodder for several popular books, including If Love Were Oil, I'd Be About a Quart Low.

Grizzard may be remembered less for his topical humor than for his poignant family reminiscences. He grew up in Moreland, Ga., the son of a beloved mother, a schoolteacher, and an alcoholic father; they separated when Lewis was 6. Grizzard—and many critics—felt that his memoir about his father, My Daddy Was a Pistol & I'm a Son of a Gun, was his best work. Despite his success, Grizzard's interests and affections remained rooted in his modest upbringing. At his death he was planning his 21st book, about dogs. "Life is like a dogsled team," he said. "If you ain't the lead dog, the scenery never changes." Grizzard was one lead dog who enjoyed the view.

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