John O’Hara famously observed on the death of George Gershwin that he “died on July 11, 1937, but I don’t have to believe it if I don’t want to.” I feel like that hearing the news that P.J. O’Rourke died yesterday at home in New Hampshire at the age of 74. He was a gifted humorist and prolific author in the American grain. His death represents an irreplaceable loss in our life and letters. The New York Times obituary by Neal Genzlinger briefly reviews the record.
As a mainstay at the National Lampoon, he was one of the writers responsible for the Lampoon‘s ingenious, hilarious, and best-selling 1964 High School Yearbook in 1974. That was hard to top, but top it he did so many times in his brilliant columns, books, and articles over the years. Every literate conservative is sure to have his favorite (or two or three).
I recall his brilliant article on the Yugo for Car and Driver in 1982. Unfortunately, he left it on the cutting room floor when he compiled Driving Like Crazy: Thirty Years of Vehicular Hell Bending, Celebrating America the Way It’s Supposed to Be–With an Oil Well in Every Backyard, a Cadillac Escalade in Every Carport, and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board Mowing Our Lawn (2009). Even the title is funny. (Neal Genzlinger reviewed it for the Times.)
In tribute to P.J. Car and Driver has republished “Ferrari Reinvents Manifest Destiny: P.J. O’Rourke Drives Cross-Country in a Ferrari 308GTS.” The editors describe it as his “classic story from 1980 in which he streaks westward in a blood-red 308GTS.”
His audacious take on the political class in Parliament of Whores: A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire U.S. Government has become a classic that joined the instructive with the agreeable. It has stood the test of time.
He made several trips to Minnesota to give speeches at the Center of the American Experiment and elsewhere. John and I chatted with him over beers after one such speech in downtown Minneapolis. He could not have been more gracious when I complained to him about the missing Yugo article.
On another visit to town he commented: “A few years ago, you elected a man to be governor who was clearly insane. Jesse Ventura was a bold experiment and, with him, you proved a great truth: Crazy politicians aren’t much different than regular politicians. But you may be going too far with Al Franken.”
As the featured speaker at the American Spectator‘s twenty-fifth anniversary celebration in 1993, P.J. commented on the coming of the Clinton era. Here is one excerpt that stands the test of time:
[A] great advantage of conservatism is that we don’t have to fill this evening with sanctimonious twaddle and self-righteous blather. Think of the dreadful dinners that liberals will be sitting through for the next four years … Yes, welcome to the 1990s. Let us all salute (and be sensitive to the needs of) the shiftless, the feckless, the senseless, the worthwhileness-impaired, the decency-challenged, and the differently moraled. And hello to their leaders — progressive, committed, and filled to the nose holes with enormous esteem for themselves.
The magazine has posted his speech here. I found it this morning in Backward and Upward: The New Conservative Writing (1995).