PJ O’Rourke, Conservative political satirist, dies at 74


PJ O’Rourke, the conservative satirist and political commentator who was unafraid to confuse Democrats and Republicans in bestselling books like “Parliament of Whores”, in articles for a wide range of magazines and newspapers, and on television and radio talk shows, died Tuesday at his home in Sharon, NH He was 74 years old.

The cause was complications from lung cancer, said Deb Seager, advertising director at Grove/Atlantic, Mr O’Rourke’s publisher.

Mr. O’Rourke’s political writings were in the caustic tradition of HL Mencken. As writers and commentators say, he was something of a celebrity, welcome on talk shows of almost any political leaning and known for his appearances on NPR’s comedy quiz show ‘Wait, Wait…Don’. t Tell Me”.

He was a proud conservative Republican – one of his books was titled “Republican Party Reptile: The Confessions, Adventures, Essays and (Other) Outrages of PJ O’Rourke” – but he was widely admired by readers from all walks of life. because of his fearlessness. style and his willingness to poke fun at everyone who deserved it, including himself. In “Republican Party Reptile”, he recalls his youthful flirtation with Mao Zedong.

“But I couldn’t stay Maoist forever,” he wrote. “I got too fat to wear bell bottoms. And I realized that communism meant giving my golf clubs to a family in Zaire.

In 2010, the New York Times invited him and assorted other prominent figures to define “Republican” and “Democrat”. He offered this:

“The Democrats are the party that says the government will make you smarter, bigger, richer, and take the crabgrass off your lawn. Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work, then gets elected and proves it.

Mr. O’Rourke was prolific. In addition to over twenty books, he wrote a column for The Daily Beast for a time and appeared regularly in The Atlantic, The American Spectator, Rolling Stone and The Weekly Standard, where he was a contributing editor. He was the conservative side of a point-counterpoint segment on “60 Minutes” in the mid-1990s, opposite Molly Ivins, and a guest on “Real Time With Bill Maher”, “The Daily Show”, “Charlie Rose” and other talk shows.

Mr. O’Rourke was most often identified as a political satirist, but his subjects went well beyond politics. His first book, published in 1983 (and reissued in 1989), was called “Modern Manners: An Etiquette Book for Rude People”.

“Good manners can replace the intellect by providing a memorized set of responses to almost any life situation,” he wrote. “Memorized responses eliminate the need to think. Anyway, thinking is not a very worthwhile pastime. Thought allows the brain, an inert, pasty organ, to exercise unjust domination over more robust and active parts of the body.

The book was full of practical advice, including this one for gentlemen: “A hat should be taken off when you greet a lady and left on for the rest of your life. Nothing looks dumber than a hat.

For many fans, his signature book was “Parliament of Whores”, subtitled “A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire US Government” and first published in 1991.

“Although it is a conservative book,” Mr. O’Rourke explained in the first pages, “it is not based on any very elaborate political theory. I have only one firm belief about the American political system, and it is this: God is a Republican and Santa Claus is a Democrat.

Signe Wilkinson, reviewing this book in The Times, wrote: “A ride with PJ O’Rourke is like a ride in the back of an old pick-up truck on unpaved roads. You get where you’re going quickly, with exhilarating views but not without a few bruises.

His recent books include “How the hell did this happen? The 2016 Election,” a collection of his writings during that presidential campaign.

“The American public held no political party in high esteem,” he explained in an author’s note setting the stage for the election. “What the American public was holding on to was his nose.

“Therefore, I was prepared for a few surprises in the 2016 campaign, which leaves me no excuse for how surprised I was by the surprises.”

During the campaign, Mr. O’Rourke announced that he would vote for Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump. Mrs. Clinton, he told the New Statesman in 2020was “the devil I knew,” when no one he knew, he said, liked Mr. Trump.

“I just thought he was unstable,” he said, and dangerous. “I still do.”

Over time, he continued in that vein, describing himself as a member of the “unorganized resistance” against Mr. Trump.

Patrick Jake O’Rourke was born on November 14, 1947 in Toledo, Ohio. Her father, Clifford, was a car salesman and her mother, Delphine (Loy) O’Rourke, was a school administrator.

In a 2011 article for Newsweek, Mr O’Rourke called his hometown “one of those dumping grounds for American capitalism”, reciting a story of good economic times that gave way to bad ones.

“America’s exceptionalism lies not in its successes but in its failures,” he wrote at the end of this article. “The bankrupt residents of Toledo can say to the residents of the rest of the world: ‘Our dumps are more splendid than your palaces.'”

He received his undergraduate degree in 1969 from the University of Miami (“the one in Ohio, not the one where you can major in water skiing”, he noted in an online autobiography) and earned a master’s degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 1970. His early work experiences included a stint at a liberal underground newspaper in Baltimore called Harry. But the last of his liberal leanings died when the Maoists occupied the newspaper’s offices.

“They thought we weren’t radical enough,” he said. told People magazine in 1989.

Becoming more libertarian than liberal, he traveled to New York in 1972 and began writing there for National Lampoon, founded in 1970. Among his most infamous articles for the magazine was one in 1979 titled “How to Drive Fast on drugs while getting your Wing-Wang pressed and not spilling your drink.

He was co-author of the Lampoon newspaper and yearbook parodies and helped promote the careers of John Belushi, Chevy Chase and Christopher Guest. From 1978 to 1980, he was the magazine’s editor.

“As a boss, I had the people skills of Luca Brasi in ‘The Godfather’ and the business acumen of the guys who ran New York’s finances in the 1970s,” he wrote in The Hollywood Reporter. in 2015, in an article which was headlined “How I Killed ‘National Lampoon’.”

The title was slightly exaggerated, but in the 1980s Mr. O’Rourke found he was more comfortable as a freelance writer. He made a brief attempt at screenwriting in Hollywood — he’s one of several credited writers on ‘Easy Money,’ a 1983 Rodney Dangerfield comedy — before heading back east and becoming a screenwriter. wanted magazine.

He worked extensively for Rolling Stone, where for a time he held the title of “Foreign Bureau Chief” and reported from distant lands.

“He became the reactionary of rock magazine,” explained “60 Minutes” in a 1994 article about him, “combining the literary flair of Hunter Thompson with the ideology and haberdashery of George Will.”

A 1989 book, “Holidays in Hell,” is a collection of pieces he wrote as a war correspondent, many of them for Rolling Stone. “The author owes an immense debt of gratitude (and quite a bit of money advanced for expenses) to editor and publisher Jann Wenner,” Mr O’Rourke wrote in the acknowledgements.

His other books include “All the Trouble in the World” (1994), which examined various current issues including climate change and famine, and “Eat the Rich: A Treatise on Economics” (1999).

Mr. O’Rourke’s marriage to Amy Lumet ended in divorce. His survivors include his wife, Tina (Mallon) O’Rourke, whom he married in 1995, and three children, Clifford, Olivia and Elizabeth.

Mr. O’Rourke’s prose may have been sharp, but some who knew him and worked with him said that in person he was less so.

“He can be vicious and mean, and he strikes the pose of a reactionary, but part of that is just shtick,” journalist Michael Kinsley told People in 1989. “He’s an anarchist with a heart of gold .”

Katharine Q. Seelye and Alex Traub contributed reporting.


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