Humorist David Rakoff dead at 47

David Rakoff, a humorist whose cynical outlook on life and culture earned him the 2011 Thurber Prize for American Humor, died Thursday in New York City after a long illness. He was 47.
The statement from Doubleday and Anchor Books announcing his death did not give a cause but Rakoff had long written about his battles with cancer.
He won the Thurber prize (named for legendary humorist James Thurber) for “Half Empty” (2010), his third collection of essays. They veered from sarcastic to poignant and expounded on such topics as optimism, mortality and the bohemian myth of artists.
His other bestselling books are “Fraud” (2001) and “Don’t Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, the Torments of Low Thread Count, The Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems” (2005).
One essay in “Fraud” was a memoir of his battle with Hodgkin’s disease. Ostensibly the story of his tracking down the sperm sample he banked in Toronto before undergoing chemotherapy 12 years earlier, it begins in typical Rakoff fashion – “I cannot escape the feeling that I was, at best, a cancer tourist, that my survival means I dabbled.”
He was born November 27, 1964, in Montreal to psychiatrist Vivan Rakoff and his physician wife, Gina Shochat-Rakoff.

Humorist David Rakoff dead at 47
David Rakoff.

David Rakoff, a prizewinning humorist whose mordant, neurotic essays examined everything from his surreal stint portraying Sigmund Freud in a Christmastime shop window display to his all-too-real battles with cancer, died on Thursday in Manhattan. He was 47.
His death was announced by his mother – Gina Shochat-Rakoff. Mr. Rakoff’s cancer had first appeared when he was 22 and recently reappeared as a tumor in his left shoulder.
The return of his cancer, and the possibility that his arm and shoulder would have to be amputated, were the subjects of the concluding essay in Mr. Rakoff’s most recent collection, “Half Empty” (2010) – a darkly comic paean to negativity.
For his incisive wit and keen eye for the preposterous, Mr. Rakoff (pronounced RACK-off) was often likened to the essayist David Sedaris, a mentor and close friend. Like Mr. Sedaris, he was a frequent contributor to “This American Life,” broadcast on public radio.
Mr. Rakoff’s print essays appeared in The New York Times, GQ, Details, Salon, Slate and elsewhere. They formed the meat of his three published collections, which, besides “Half Empty,” include “Fraud” (2001), in which he chronicled, among other things, his brief appearance on a television soap opera – Mr. Rakoff was also an actor; and “Don’t Get Too Comfortable” (2005), which, as its jacket proclaims, skewers the American demographic beleaguered by “the never-ending quest for artisanal olive oil and other first world problems.”
A self-described gay Jewish Canadian transplant to New York City, Mr. Rakoff was a social anthropologist of postmodern life. His research often entailed firsthand field work, as when, in pursuit of conspicuous consumption, he became a passenger on one of the last flights of the Concorde.

Rakoff wrote for The New York Times, Newsweek and other publications and was a contributor to public radio’s “This American Life.” In October, his essay collection “Half Empty” won the Thurber Prize for American Humor. His other bestselling books are “Don’t Get Too Comfortable” and “Fraud.”
“The world is a little less kind and a little less beautiful today” – his longtime editor, Bill Thomas, said in a statement.
Ira Glass, host of “This American Life,” wrote on the show’s blog that Rakoff will be missed.
“He was my friend, our friend here at the radio show, and our brother in creating the program, making it into what it’s become” – he wrote. “We loved him. We’ll miss him.”
Rakoff, a native of Canada who lived in New York, cultivated hipness and ironic distance from his subjects, who usually lived outside the mainstream: American Buddhists who pay for lectures from Steven Seagal; Icelandic elf communicators; Loch Ness monster believers.
An essay in “Fraud,” published in 2001, was a memoir of his battle with Hodgkin’s disease. Ostensibly the story of his tracking down the sperm sample he banked in Toronto before undergoing chemotherapy 12 years earlier, it begins in typical Rakoff fashion: – “I cannot escape the feeling that I was, at best, a cancer tourist, that my survival means I dabbled.”
In an essay last year in The New York Times Magazine, Rakoff wrote about being treated for “a rather tenacious sarcoma around the area of my left collarbone.”
In addition to his work in the theater and occasional roles on television, Rakoff appeared in and adapted the screenplay for “The New Tenants,” a film that won an Academy Award for best live action short in 2010.
“There were hundreds of reasons to love David” – said Thomas, who is senior vice president, publisher and editor-in-chief of Doubleday. “He was of course incredibly charming, witty and learned, a brilliant raconteur with the quickest mind imaginable, but most of all he was a generous soul. Though his life was cut infuriatingly short, it was rich beyond measure.”
Doubleday plans to publish Rakoff’s final work next year. The title will be – “Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die; Cherish, Perish.”

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