'This American Life' contributor David Rakoff remembered

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Humorist and author David Rakoff, 47, died Thursday. Rakoff, who had cancer, was a frequent contributor to "This American Life" and wrote several bestselling books. He also wrote for The New York Times Magazine and Spin, among many other magazines.

Linda Holmes writes a remembrance from a fan's point of view:

When writers die, I'm always drawn to remembrances that are baldly loving and personal: Dan Savage, "Devastated." Starlee Kine, saying simply, "David." But for me, the sadness is undeniably selfish. I miss the maybe 30 more years of writing I somehow feel I was entitled to read and hear. I see it in my mind fading from printed pages, and I simply miss it.

Canadian essayist David Rakoff reads from his book, "Fraud," during Canada Day in New York's Central Park, Sunday, July 1, 2001. (Louis Lanzano/AP)

Dave Itzkoff, who I used to work with at Spin, also approaches Rakoff via his work:

In 2001, Mr. Rakoff published the essay collection “Fraud,” which included his accounts of training with Mr. Seagal, the action-movie star and holistic shaman, as well as travels to Iceland and an ascent of Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire, dressed in “large, ungainly potatolike” Timberland boots that, he said, he disliked “with a fervor I usually reserve for people.” With characteristic mordancy, Mr. Rakoff added, “Just think, the shoes I wouldn’t be caught dead in might actually turn out to be the shoes I am caught dead in.”

Choire Sicha hints at knowing Rakoff, mentioning his "incredibly organized home." He aggregates -- via JPG! -- scans of plangent Rakoff passages.

The work he leaves behind -- both recorded and in the collections Fraud, from 2001, Don't Get Too Comfortable, from 2005, Half Empty, from 2010 -- are all ahead-of-their-time documentations of the way we actually do live now. There was no better correspondent from New York City of his time.

Edward Champion remembers an interview he did with Rakoff, when Rakoff kept offering him something to eat. The politeness extended:

Here was a man who personally apologized to me for having to stop tape every 30 minutes to take the medication that was keeping him alive. The apology was unnecessary. I told David that if he didn’t want to talk, we didn’t have to. But for David, the show had to go on. The man summoned some wonder to the very end.

Jason Diamond remembers watching Rakoff live:

While I’d heard Rakoff’s voice a dozen times before through his contributions to This American Life, and had the pleasure of speaking with him on a few occasions, the show’s debut was very different. Rakoff had a voice that I can honestly only describe as a gay, Canadian, Orson Welles. It was the sort of voice you hear and immediately find yourself trying to imitate each special syllable. But when he played God in what was a light-hearted and campy musical in a tiny space on 42nd Street and 9th Avenue, he did it so perfectly and with such dignity and aplomb that my idea of what God sounds like was changed forever.

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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