New York

Death be not proud


No one will accuse the Daily News of having missed the death of longtime P.C. Richard boss A.J. Richard, a “visionary” and “legend” (and advertiser) whose passing last week the News marked with a full-page expression of sympathy and a full-page article headlined “Pioneering giant in the retail world.”

Newsday and the Times also noted the death. But the News on Wednesday even reported on Richard’s funeral.

As Detective Lennie Briscoe might say, “So like, when do we dedicate the statue?”

Speaking of the great Jerry Orbach, as the News was eulogizing Richard, the Post offered a tribute to the late actor by Adam Buckman that began, “I never knew Jerry Orbach but we had something in common. We shared a barber.”

I don’t know what Mickey the barber thinks about it, but Orbach and Richard must be posthumously disappointed that they didn’t yet merit a fond farewell from the best obit outfit around: The Economist magazine.

While its uptight voice (it insists on calling itself “a newspaper”) and corporatist outlook tend to infuriate even as it informs, Economist obituaries are pure beauty. Getting an Economist obit when you die ought to be a life’s goal (along with getting into a bar fight so you can break a beer bottle against the table. That always looks so cool).

Consider, for example, The Economist‘s October 14 send-off of Christopher Reeve, which begins with Reeve’s shot to stardom after the first Superman movie.

Journalists in those days often asked him what heroism was. Not leaving his persona for a moment, he said: “Someone who commits a courageous action without considering the consequences.” As Superman, he knew all about that.

In later years, he professed to have changed his mind completely. Certainly his body had changed. A riding accident in 1995 had confined him to a wheelchair, paralysed from the neck down. He could move, with effort, the index finger of his left hand, breathed mostly through a ventilator, and needed as many people to support him standing as had once arranged Superman’s cape. Heroism, he said now, was simply enduring, as he did every day.

He never meant that. Mr Reeve still believed, with every fibre of his body, in taking risks.

Or check out the farewell to Yasser Arafat:

In 1988 Mr Arafat made the move that transformed him from resistance leader to statesman and potential president: he explicitly recognised Israel, renounced terrorism—for the first of many times—and publicly accepted the principle of two states, Israel and Palestine, side by side. The transformation was slow, and not universally believed: Mr Arafat appeared at the United Nations talking of peace, but with a gun in his holster. From then on, however, the question was not whether Israel and Palestine would negotiate their two states, but when and how.

Susan Sontag, an American intellectual … Lord Scarman, lawyer and judge … Cleve Gray, abstract painter… Billy James Hargis, televangelist … Iris Chang, chronicler of a massacre …

In The Economist‘s obits, everyone’s life—from the British union leader you never heard of to the rapper you were sure The Economist had never heard of (Ol’ Dirty Bastard)—seems at once heroic and flawed, ironic, triumphant, doomed, and very long.

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