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Au revoir, Art

01/02/2007 - par Mark Tungate

The list of my literary ­heroes who remain alive is getting shorter. I've noticed that most of them are American (which is odd, considering I'm a Brit) and of course they're all journalists : Heming­way (yes, he was a reporter before he was a novelist), A.J. Liebling, Hunter S. Thompson. All of them shuffled off long ago. The list grew shorter last week with the death of Art Buchwald, the legendary columnist of the International ­Herald Tribune.

Buchwald was short, plump and bespectacled. But if he looked as ­charming as his writing, he would have resembled Cary Grant. Just after the war, at the age of 23, he ignored his father's warning (« Nobody makes a living as a writer ») and came to Paris, where he intended to find a French girl who thought he was the greatest writer in the world. He ended up working for the Herald Tribune, where he wrote a column called « Paris After Dark », which turned him into a minor celebrity. His trick was to mingle with everybody from stars to strippers, and occasionally minor royalty, while remaining ordinary - if hilarious.

Like many funny people, Art was a depressive who was dying inside. He described himself as a part-time suicide. His column was a way of laughing at the world's madness. In his very last ­column, written just before he died, he said he had not discovered the answer to life : but he wished he'd eaten more desserts. Farewell, Art - it was nice reading you.

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Au revoir, Art

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