The Madeleine Brand Show for August 10, 2012

'This American Life' contributor and essayist David Rakoff dies at age 47

TFF 2010 Portrait Studio At The FilmMaker Industry Press Center - Day 5

Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Fe

Actor David Rakoff from the film "The New Tenants" attends the Tribeca Film Festival 2010 portrait studio at the FilmMaker Industry Press Center on April 27, 2010 in New York, New York.

Humorist, essayist and longtime "This American Life" contributor David Rakoff has died of cancer at the age of 47.

Rakoff's essays were dark, filled with pessimism, but always deeply funny. In an interview with Terry Gross two years ago he told her that his world outlook was defined at early age:

"I just never sort of like, hey, yes, let's go play. I was always more sort of like, does everybody know where the fire exit is and let's make sure there's enough oxygen in this elevator," he said.

Rakoff wrote three books of essays, his latest was "Half Empty." It was during the writing of that book when he discovered he had a malignant tumor. The cancer was the result of radiation he received when he was in his early twenties for lymphoma. As he writes in the book, he had to have his arm amputed.

"I begin to type with one hand — one finger is more like it. Considering what I do for a living, it's appalling that I'm still hunt-and-peck. I accomplish a host of tasks: putting on my shoes, new slip-ons purchased without even looking at the price tag. I remember this kind of heedless spending in the face of illness; buttoning my fly; showering; dressing; shaving," said Rakoff. "I manage to cut an avocado in half by wedging the leathery black pear against the counter with my stomach and, thus steadied, go at it with a knife. In the evenings, with my bloodstream a sticky river of Ativan, wine and codeine, it all feels eminently doable. In the cold light of day, however, unable to carry a chair to move it into a corner, for example, what I'm about to embark on feels a little bigger and harder."

David Rakoff's view of his cancer was that he was unlucky, but who's to say its unfair? As he told Fresh Air's Terry Gross: "...So you can't win all the contests and then lose at one contest and say why am I not winning this contest as well? It's random, you know. So truthfully, again, do I wish it weren't me? Absolutely. But I still can't then make that logistical jump to thinking there's a reason why it shouldn't be me."

David Rakoff in "This American Life: The Invisible Made Visible"


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