[David Rakoff, an author, essayist, humorist, actor, and contributor to This American Life, died Thursday night at his home in New York. Rakoff won a James Thurber Prize for American Humor last year for his essay collection, Half Empty. In this statement, his longtime editor Bill Thomas praised "David's insistence on beauty and the necessity of kindness in a selfish world."]
It is with a deeply heavy heart that I tell you our dear friend and beloved author David Rakoff passed away today at the age of 47. As many of you know David had battled cancer over the last few years; quite recently it became apparent that the cancer had returned in a form that could not be treated.
David wrote three bestselling books for Doubleday "“ FRAUD, DON'T GET TOO COMFORTABLE, and HALF EMPTY. Because David's writing was so goddamn funny, he was often mischaracterized as a satirist, but a satirist employs exaggeration to drive home social criticism, and David saw and portrayed the world clearly. Underneath the indelible wit and perfect turns of phrase lay a sadness that people can be so cruel and selfish, and a belief that the only weapon against the world's brutality was kindness and beauty. And so he lived "“ he was the most gracious and considerate of men. Civility mattered a great deal to David, but for him manners were not merely a social lubricant; he believed deeply that every person was due true and meaningful attention.
It is one of the reasons hundreds of people loved David. Of course he was incredibly charming, witty and learned, a brilliant raconteur with the quickest mind imaginable. And though his life was cut infuriatingly short, it was rich beyond measure. In addition to his writing, David was a stage and screen actor, a playwright, a screenwriter (the short film for which he adapted the screenplay and starred in, "The New Tenants," won an Academy Award), a brilliant radio essayist for "This American Life," and an accomplished visual artist. He was also one of us "“ David spent nine years working at HarperCollins, and I urge everyone, especially assistants, to read his essays "Lush Life" (from FRAUD) and "The Satisfying Crunch of Dreams Underfoot" (from HALF EMPTY) for excruciating but uproarious portrayals of this our publishing culture. For publicists, go to YouTube and view "David Rakoff and Dave Hill Go On a Book Tour." He really did understand.
David called me five weeks ago and told me had finished his new book, which was not due until the Fall. He also told me we would be publishing it posthumously. (Characteristically, he apologized for giving me this news on the phone. Canadian to the end.) The book is a novel, in verse, called LOVE, DISHONOR, MARRY, DIE; CHERISH, PERISH. I had my doubts about the project when he proposed it, but I was wrong. It is written with humor and sympathy and tenderness, and proves him to be the master of an altogether different art form. The story leaps cities and decades as David sings the song of an America whose freedoms can be intoxicating, or devastating. It is the clearest expression of David's insistence on beauty and the necessity of kindness in a selfish world. I can think of no more fitting tribute to David than publishing the hell out of it.