Earlier today on CNN Newsroom, Kyra Phillips interviewed her mentor Art Buchwald. Partial transcript follows…
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome back.
BUCHWALD: Thank you. Are there any messages?
PHILLIPS (voice-over): He’s being hailed as the celebrity of death.
(on camera) So, Art, I’ve known you for 20 years. Where do we start?
BUCHWALD: Where do we start? Well, we start at a heck of a place. It’s a hospice.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Are you laughing too? Well, that’s exactly what Art Buchwald wants.
BUCHWALD: I remember the first month, all my buddies showed up, all of them. It was like Radio City Music Hall. They used to say at the beginning, “Have you seen the Lincoln Memorial and Art Buchwald?”
PHILLIPS: It’s true. When Art decided he’d had it with dialysis, his doctors told him he had less than three weeks to live. So he checked into hospice.
Everyone came to say good-bye: Mark Wallace, Ethel Kennedy, Tom Brokaw, Ben Bradley, Walter Cronkite, the queen of Swaziland. And, yes, me.
No, I’m not one of Art’s famous friends. I mean, look at his life. Betty Bacall and Humphrey Bogart persuaded Art’s wife, Ann, to marry him. Lucille Ball brought her kids over to visit. Hanging out with Paul Newman, Duke Ellington and Eddie Fisher was just another day in the life of Artie.
But I was one very lucky college student, given a pretty challenging assignment: interview Art Buchwald and live to tell about it. The year, 1989. My headline, “Columnist Buchwald: The Laughs Started Here”.
BUCHWALD: Very nice article. I hope you got an “A” in it.
PHILLIPS: I may not have received an “A” on that article, but I did earn something far more valuable: a friendship, a pen pal, a mentor. And a man that continues to teach me life lessons.
(on camera) Do you find it funny that you check into a hospice and your doctors actually say you’re doing better?
BUCHWALD: Well, I don’t find it funny. I find it funny about all the things that have happened to me since I’ve been there. It’s an unbelievable experience, because after 2 1/2 months, I’ve had a chance to say good-bye to everybody in my life, everybody, in every walk, from my orphan asylum days, to the Marine Corps, to USC, to Paris, to today. And I’ve gotten 3,000 or 4,000 letters now from people.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Growing up an orphan, Art used humor to cope. He never imagined it would define his career. He joined the Marines to become a man. He went to USC to become a writer. Then Art bought his one-way ticket to Paris to become famous. It worked.
Now a half century, more than 8,000 newspaper columns, and a Pulitzer Prize later, Art Buchwald is still using humor to cope, happily: planning his funeral, eating McDonald’s every day, and reveling in all the gifts he’s gotten since his life went into overtime.
BUCHWALD: This is Pete Carroll. And he gave me his autograph, because I want USC to win a game once in a while. Thank you.
PHILLIPS (on camera): Give me a “fight on,” Artie. BUCHWALD (singing): Fight on for USC.