February 15, 2022
Author, journalist and political satirist P.J. O’Rourke has died. O’Rourke wrote more than twenty books about a range of topics, from politics to cars, and he was a longtime panelist on the NPR show Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!.
According to his publisher, Grove Atlantic, O’Rourke passed away this morning due to complications from lung cancer. He was 74.
O’Rourke began his career writing for the National Lampoon, and later led the foreign affairs desk at Rolling Stone, where he covered world politics from the Persian Gulf to the Philippines. His books Parliament of Whores and Give War a Chance both reached #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.
O’Rourke was born in Toledo, Ohio into a family, as he put it, “so normal as to be almost a statistical anomaly.” His father sold cars and his mother was a housewife.
In the early 1990’s he moved to New Hampshire, where he continued to write. According to his Grove Atlantic bio, O’Rourke lived there to get “as far away from the things he writes about as he can get.”
“P. J. was one of the major voices of his generation,” writes Morgan Entrekin, CEO and Publisher of Grove Atlantic, in a statement. “His insightful reporting, verbal acuity and gift at writing laugh-out-loud prose were unparalleled.”
“This is a heartbreaking loss for all of us at NPR, our Member Stations, and the millions of public radio listeners who enjoyed hearing from P.J. O’Rourke as a Wait…Wait panelist and counted on his irreverent take on the news every week,” Anya Grundmann, NPR’s senior vice president of programming, said in a statement.
The staff of the quiz show hosted by Peter Sagal wrote, “[O’Rourke] made his debut as a special guest on our first show after 9/11, when we needed someone to come on and be funny about terrible things, which, of course, was P.J.’s specialty.” Their statement continues, “as much fun as he was to have on the show, he was even more delightful in the bar afterwards. We all will miss him terribly, and extend our deepest condolences to his wife Tina and his children.”
P.J. O’Rourke leaves behind his wife Tina O’Rourke and three children.
P.J. O’Rourke, Conservative Political Satirist, Dies at 74
In articles, in best sellers and as a talk show regular he was a voice from the right skewering whatever in government or culture he thought needed it.
Feb. 15, 2022
P.J. O’Rourke, the conservative satirist and political commentator who was unafraid to skewer Democrats and Republicans alike in best-selling books like “Parliament of Whores,” in articles for a wide range of magazines and newspapers, and on television and radio talk shows, died on Tuesday at his home in Sharon, N.H. He was 74.
The cause was complications of lung cancer, said Deb Seager, the director of publicity at Grove/Atlantic, Mr. O’Rourke’s publisher.
Mr. O’Rourke’s political writing was in the caustic tradition of H.L. Mencken. As writers and commentators go, he was something of a celebrity, welcome on talk shows of almost any political bent and known for appearances on NPR’s comedy quiz show “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me.”
He was a proud conservative Republican — one of his books was called “Republican Party Reptile: The Confessions, Adventures, Essays and (Other) Outrages of P.J. O’Rourke” — but he was widely admired by readers of many stripes because of his fearless style and his willingness to mock just about anyone who deserved it, including himself. In “Republican Party Reptile” he recalled his youthful flirtation with Mao Zedong.
“But I couldn’t stay a 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 people to define “Republican” and “Democrat.” He offered this:
“The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer and remove the crab grass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then get elected and prove it.”
Mr. O’Rourke was prolific. In addition to some 20 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 ranged well beyond the political. His first book, published in 1983 (and reissued in 1989), was called “Modern Manners: An Etiquette Book for Rude People.”
“Good manners can replace intellect by providing a set of memorized responses to almost every situation in life,” he wrote. “Memorized responses eliminate the need for thought. Thought is not a very worthwhile pastime anyway. Thinking allows the brain, an inert and mushy organ, to exert unfair domination over more sturdy and active body parts.”
The book was full of practical advice, including this for gentlemen: “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.”
- Obituary: Known for being a voice from the right, Mr. O’Rourke skewered whatever in government or culture he thought needed it.
- Times Interview: In 2012, Mr. O’Rourke said he doesn’t like to read books about current affairs. “I can write that junk myself,” he quipped.
- From the Archives: For many fans, Mr. O’Rourke’s signature book was “Parliament of Whores.” Read our review from 1991.
For many fans, his signature book was “Parliament of Whores,” subtitled “A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire U.S. Government” and first published in 1991.
“Although this is a conservative book,” Mr. O’Rourke explained in the opening pages, “it is not informed by any very elaborate political theory. I have only one firm belief about the American political system, and that is this: God is a Republican and Santa Claus is a Democrat.”
Signe Wilkinson, reviewing that book in The Times, wrote: “A spin with P. J. O’Rourke is like a ride in the back of an old pickup over unpaved roads. You get where you’re going fast, with exhilarating views but not without a few bruises.”
His recent books included “How the Hell Did This Happen? The Election of 2016,” a collection of his writings during that presidential campaign.
“The American public wasn’t holding either political party in much esteem,” he explained in an author’s note setting the stage for the election. “What the American public was holding was its nose.
“Therefore I was prepared for some surprises during the 2016 campaign, which leaves me with no excuse for how surprised I was by what the surprises were.”
During the campaign, Mr. O’Rourke announced that he was going to vote for Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump. Mrs. Clinton, he told The New Statesman in 2020, was “the devil I knew,” whereas no one he knew, he said, liked Mr. Trump.
“I just thought he was unstable,” he said, and dangerous. “I still do.”
As time went on, he continued in that vein, describing himself as a member of the “unorganized resistance” against Mr. Trump.
Patrick Jake O’Rourke was born on Nov. 14, 1947, in Toledo, Ohio. His father, Clifford, was a car salesman, and his mother, Delphine (Loy) O’Rourke, was a school administrator.
In a 2011 article for Newsweek, Mr. O’Rourke called his hometown “one of those junkyards of American capitalism,” reciting a history of good economic times that gave way to bad.
“America’s exceptionalism lies not in its successes but its failures,” he wrote at the end of that piece. “The people of failed Toledo can say to the people of the rest of the world, ‘Our junkyards are more splendid than your palaces.’”
He received his undergraduate degree in 1969 from Miami University (“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 at Johns Hopkins University in 1970. His early work experience included a stint at a liberal underground Baltimore newspaper called Harry. But the last of his liberal leanings died when Maoists occupied the newspaper’s offices.
“They thought we weren’t radical enough,” he told People magazine in 1989.
Becoming more libertarian than liberal, he went to New York in 1972 and there started writing for National Lampoon, which was founded in 1970. Among his more infamous articles for the magazine was one in 1979 titled “How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink.”
He was a co-writer of 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 in chief.
“As the boss, I had the people skills of Luca Brasi in ‘The Godfather’ and the business acumen of the fellows who were managing New York’s finances in the 1970s,” he wrote in The Hollywood Reporter in 2015, in an article that carried the headline “How I Killed ‘National Lampoon.’”
The headline was a slight exaggeration, but in the 1980s Mr. O’Rourke discovered he was more comfortable as a freelance writer. He made a brief attempt at screenwriting in Hollywood — he is one of several credited writers of “Easy Money,” a 1983 Rodney Dangerfield comedy — before returning east and becoming a sought-after magazine writer.
He did a lot of work for Rolling Stone, where for a time he held the title of “foreign affairs desk chief” and reported from distant lands.
“He’s become the rock magazine’s reactionary,” “60 Minutes” explained in a 1994 feature on 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 acknowledgments.
His other books included “All the Trouble in the World” (1994), which looked at various topical 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 barbed, but some who knew and worked with him said that in person he was less so.
“He can be vicious and nasty, and he strikes the pose of a reactionary, but some of that is just shtick,” the journalist Michael Kinsley told People in 1989. “He’s an anarchist with a heart of gold.”
P.J. O’Rourke Wrote With High, Cranky Style in a Shrinking Tradition ~ NYT
O’Rourke, who died on Tuesday at 74, was a sharp-toothed satirist whose conservatism wasn’t doctrinaire.
Feb. 16, 2022
During the 1980s and ’90s, his heyday, P.J. O’Rourke owned one of those bylines — like Nora Ephron’s, or Michael Kinsley’s, or Calvin Trillin’s — that made many readers, including this one, tingle with anticipation.
O’Rourke, who died on Tuesday at 74, came bombing in from the right side of the political spectrum, which made him doubly interesting. He was that rare conservative who appeared to be having a better time, and doing better drugs, than everyone else. He was well-read; he was, it often seemed, the only funny Republican alive.
His books — “Holidays in Hell” (1988), “Parliament of Whores”(1991) and “Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut” (1995) among them — often collected his journalism. Their author, these books made clear, liked to get out of the house.
Some of his best writing was about the open road. One early piece was memorably titled, “How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink.” In 1980, for Car and Driver, he drove cross country in a blood-red Ferrari 308GTS.
This euphoric passage from that piece, about overtaking a Porsche, is as good a snippet of O’Rourke’s high style as any:
We came by a 930 Turbo Porsche near the Talladega exit. He was going about 90 when we passed him, and he gave us a little bit of a run, passed us at about 110, and then we passed him again. He was as game as anybody we came across and was hanging right on our tail at 120. Ah, but then — then we just walked away from him. Five seconds and he was nothing but a overturned-boat-shaped dot in the mirrors. I suppose he could have kept up, but driving one of those ass-engined Nazi slot cars must be a task at around 225 percent of the speed limit. But not for us. I’ve got more vibration here on my electric typewriter than we had blasting into Birmingham that beautiful morning in that beautiful car on a beautiful tour across this wonderful country from the towers of Manhattan to the bluffs of Topanga Canyon so fast we filled the appointment logs of optometrists’ offices in 30 cities just from people getting their eyes checked for seeing streaks because they’d watched us go by.
For many years O’Rourke was Rolling Stone’s foreign-affairs desk chief. He was a detector of dichotomies, when he wasn’t camped out like Graham Greene in a hotel bar. “Each American embassy comes with two permanent features,” he wrote: “a giant anti-American demonstration and a giant line for American visas.”
O’Rourke’s conservatism wasn’t doctrinaire. Like H.L. Mencken, who influenced his writing, his bedrock loathing was for sanctimony. Liberals, to O’Rourke, were pretentious bores who want to “make us carry our groceries home in our mouths.”
“By loudly denouncing all bad things — war and hunger and date rape — liberals testify to their own terrific goodness,” he wrote. He added: “It’s a kind of natural aristocracy, and the wonderful thing about this aristocracy is that you don’t have to be brave, smart, strong or even lucky to join it, you just have to be liberal.”
Yet he voted for Hillary Clinton. “She’s wrong about absolutely everything,” he said, “but she’s wrong within normal parameters.” About Trump he said, “This man just can’t be president. They’ve got this button, you know, in the briefcase. He’s going to find it.”
He provoked the right in other ways. Accepting asylum seekers was consistent with conservative principles, he argued: “Aren’t we pro-life?” he asked. “Aren’t refugees life?”
Too often, O’Rourke shot fish in a barrel. His sentences lost some of their snap over time. He became an imitation of himself, an occupational hazard for a big personality. A certain Foghorn Leghorn quality crept in. The cocky cigars didn’t help.
Tucker Carlson stole O’Rourke’s preppy look (khakis, blue blazers) but not his wit, his cool or his intolerance for the barking mad.
About the way he dressed, O’Rourke commented: “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.”
O’Rourke’s death matters not just because he was a lively presence, a cranky original. His absence leaves a martini-glass-size gap in what remains of conservatism’s huddled and surrounded intellectual and cultural wing.
The influential conservative critic Terry Teachout, who wrote for The Wall Street Journal, died earlier this month. Joan Didion’s obituaries reminded us that she published much of her early work in The National Review. A glacier of a sort has almost entirely melted.
O’Rourke was a charmer, not a haranguer. Each of his essays, I’d guess, won more converts to conservatism than a lifetime of columns by Charles Krauthammer or Michelle Malkin. Almost anyone can thunder. Almost no one is reliably light on their feet.
O’Rourke wrote a semi-satirical book of etiquette, “Modern Manners,” which appeared in 1983. I’ve always found his advice to be completely excellent.
When my wife is anxious about our tax debt but I badly want to go out to dinner, I remind her, as O’Rourke wrote, that it’s “better to spend money like there’s no tomorrow than to spend tonight like there’s no money.”
That’s hardly a conservative impulse. O’Rourke’s contradictions are what made him a friend, on the page, worth having.