Art Buchwald, 80, the celebrated humorist and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, stunned friends and family at the beginning of February when he announced he was checking into a hospice to die rather than continue treatments for a fatal kidney disease. He thought he would go quickly. Two months later, he's still going. NBC's Tom Brokaw has known Buchwald for 30 years and sat down with him to talk life, death and laughter.
Tom Brokaw: Art, you're still here! We couldn't be happier that you're still with us.
Art Buchwald: Well, thank you very much. I mean, that's the best part of not dying right away is that I have a chance to say goodbye to everybody.
Brokaw: Why did you make this decision in the first place?
Buchwald: They said I had to take dialysis. I said, “I'm not going to take dialysis.” What I didn't realize was that I'd be a celebrity for death.
Brokaw: Some people tried to talk you out of that.
Buchwald: My family did. And then also my friends did. And my doctor said it's your choice. And that's what helped a lot.
Buchwald’s life began as a foster child, shuttled from family to family in New York. Then, in World War II, Buchwald was the most unlikely Marine. His sense of humor was his best weapon. After the war, he set out to make the world laugh and make himself famous.
Buchwald: I think I was always looking for fame. (Laughs) It was, like, from a very early age, I found out that people would treat you better if you were famous.
He succeeded — first as a columnist in Paris, then in Washington, and across the country on the lecture circuit and with his books. Now he's holding court daily at the Washington Home, entertaining everyone from the Marine commandant to the French ambassador.
Brokaw: What have you learned from all of this?
Buchwald: I learned, first of all, how many friends I really had. That's a real thing that very few people have a chance to know. The second thing I learned is how wonderful these people are in hospice.
Buchwald has learned something else: His children never tire of hearing about his adventures.
Buchwald: They want to know all your stories. The kids still want to hear — they want to know about you. And that's a beautiful thing.
Brokaw: So, now you're at this stage in life when you're preparing for death. What have you missed?
Buchwald: Well, the thing I'm going to miss the most is global warming. That's the only thing I can think of that I'm going to miss. And good luck to all you people who are going to have it.