P.J. O’Rourke died last week of complications from lung cancer at the age of 74, no doubt a victim of the omnipresent cigarettes…or the joints…or, later in life, cigars the size of diseased bratwursts. He leaves behind a treasure trove of wit and style with a rightward lean that makes it all the more unique and worthy of our attention.
Like H.L. Mencken, in whose hallowed footsteps he followed, he was the master of acerbic one-liners. To wit (sorry):
–Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.
-If you think health care is expensive now, just wait until it’s free.
–A hat should be taken off when you greet a lady and left off for the rest of your life. Nothing looks more stupid than a hat.
–"It’s better to spend money like there’s no tomorrow than to spend tonight like there’s no money.” He wrote in college and later became editor of National Lampoon, which was really funny for a time and then became an unfunny caricature of itself, sort of like what happened to Lenny Bruce and the recently departed Mort Sahl. After quitting the magazine, he became a freelancer and then a semi-regular for Rolling Stone magazine, where he mostly covered absurd foreign happenings.
During one of his foreign travels, he once observed, “Each American embassy comes with two permanent features: a giant anti-American demonstration and a giant line for American visas.”
Also at Rolling Stone, he would do those wonderful year-end wrap-ups, the kind I first came across in Esquire and a tradition carried on by everyone from Dave Barry to our own Jim Nintzel and Leo Banks. One of my all-time favorites of his observations was “Armenians and Azerbaijanis in Stepanakert, capital of the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region, rioted over much needed spelling reform in the Soviet Union.”
He wrote books and essays and even wrote a movie for Rodney Dangerfield (Easy Money). In his later years, he became a semi-regular on NPR. He said that his “whole purpose in life was to offend everyone who listens to NPR, no matter what position they take on anything.”
The best thing about him was that he took dead aim at the ridiculousness of politics and the pathetic, self-aggrandizing practitioners thereof. He was a conservative with a distinct Libertarian bent, but he said, “The Republicans are the party that says that government doesn’t work and then they get elected and prove it.”
His words from long ago ring loudly true today. He wrote, “To mistrust science and deny the validity of scientific method is to resign your job as a human. You’d better go look for work as a plant or wild animal.”
Some idiot on the radio said that P.J. O’Rourke’s mantle is now passed to Tucker Carlson. I wanted to wretch. O’Rourke was insightful and intelligent and witty. Carlson is mean and petty and about as funny as a truckload of body parts.
It has been suggested that Carlson has tried to copy O’Rourke’s look (khakis with a blazer), but even that reminds me of an O’Rourke-ism. He once said, “The weirder you’re going to behave, the more normal you should look. It works in reverse, too. When I see a kid with three or four rings in his nose, I know there is absolutely nothing extraordinary about that person.”
His use of humor and self-deprecation easily set him apart from the pedantry and snottiness of people like Charles Krauthammer and Ann Coulter. In fact, he often went after Coulter’s fake-ass “conservatism.”
Perhaps his finest hour came in 2016 when he absolutely refused to jump on the Trump bandwagon. He eviscerated Trump and openly endorsed Hillary Clinton, whom he called “the second-worst thing that could happen to this country.”
He then added, “She’s wrong about absolutely everything, but she’s wrong within normal parameters.”
As for Donald Trump, he said, “This man just cannot be President. They’ve got this button, you know, in the briefcase. He’s going to find it.”
I have to believe that if he had not been facing death himself, P.J. O’Rourke would have savaged the anti-vaxxers, the Me!-Me!-Me! responsibility shirkers, the mask-less morons, and all of their enabling right-wing media liars.
I had always hoped to meet him. I think I would have mentioned that he and I shared the same birthday, perhaps suggesting that there was some kind of kinship there. He would have silenced me by pointing out that it is also the birthday for that philandering wimp, Prince Charles. RIP, P.J.