P.J. O’Rourke, 1947-2022
The great conservative humorist is gone at 74.
New York Times (“P.J. O’Rourke, Conservative Political Satirist, Dies at 74“):
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.”
NPR (“Satirist P.J. O’Rourke, panelist on NPR’s ‘Wait…Wait Don’t Tell Me,’ dies at 74“):
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!.
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.
Later in life he contributed to more conservative outlets including The Weekly Standard and served as the H. L. Mencken Research Fellow at the Cato Institute.
“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.”
Rolling Stone (“P.J. O’Rourke, Celebrated Journalist and Conservative Satirist, Dead at 74“):
P.J. O’Rourke, the political satirist and journalist who served as foreign-affairs desk chief at Rolling Stone until 2005 and wrote for numerous publications, has died. He was 74. His death was confirmed by NBC News.
Respected for his wit and storytelling by people across the political spectrum, O’Rourke’s early essays suggested a liberal leaning after he earned an M.A. in English at Johns Hopkins University in 1970. However, he soon changed his political stance and his work reflected libertarian conservatism.
He wrote for several indie publications before landing at National Lampoon in 1973, where he had a variety of positions, including editor-in-chief. He also wrote for 1973 stage spinoff National Lampoon’s Lemmings, which featured John Belushi, Chevy Chase, and Christopher Guest, and he co-wrote National Lampoon’s 1964 High School Yearbook with Douglas Kenney.
In 1981, he turned to freelancing, contributing to Rolling Stone and other publications before becoming the foreign-affairs desk chief, a role he served in until 2005, when he became a contributing editor. In 1992, he interviewed Bill Clinton on the campaign trail alongside Rolling Stone‘s Jann Wenner, Hunter S. Thompson, and William Greider.
O’Rourke also served as a broadcast conservative commentator and guest, appearing on shows such as 60 Minutes and Real Time With Bill Maher, and was a regular panelist on NPR’s quiz show hosted by Peter Sagal and Bill Kurtis, Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!
In 2016, he famously endorsed Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump, announcing his begrudging decision during a Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me! episode. “It’s the second-worst thing that can happen to this country. But she’s way behind in second place,” he said. “I mean, she’s wrong about absolutely everything, but she’s wrong within normal parameters.”
“It is very rare in life to be a fan of someone and then become their friend, but it happened to me with PJ, and I discovered something remarkable: Most well known people try to be nicer than they are in public than they are in private life,” Sagal wrote on Twitter. “PJ was the only man I knew to be the opposite.
“He was a deeply kind and generous man who pretended to be a curmudgeon for public consumption. He told the best stories,” Sagal continued. “He had the most remarkable friends. And he devoted himself to them and his family in a way that would have totally ruined his shtick had anyone ever found out. Like some other people I am (sic), it took him two tries to get marriage right, so he leaves behind a wife, Tina, and three children who are far too young to lose their husband and father. His work was wonderful. His heart was even better. I will miss him terribly.”
I read several of his early books, including Parliament of Whores (1991), Give War a Chance (1992), and Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut (1995) and always enjoyed his television and “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” appearances—although it has been some time since I was a regular listener.
It’s not everyone who can go from the editor-in-chief of National Lampoon to foreign affairs columnist for Rolling Stone to being a regular for National Review, The Atlantic, and NPR.
I wasn’t aware that he had grudgingly endorsed Clinton in 2016 but it doesn’t surprise me.