Remembering David Rakoff

Award-winning humorist loses long battle with cancer

David Rakoff in a production still from the set of 2010's
David Rakoff in a production still from the set of 2010's "The New Tenants"

David Rakoff, a humorist and frequent This American Life contributor whose personal essays ran the gamut from blackly comic observations on life to rapturous accounts of arts & crafts projects, has died. He was 47.

When he was 22, Rakoff was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease and underwent chemotherapy, in an ordeal he described in a piece for This American Life in 2000, "I Used To Bank Here But That Was Long, Long Ago." Rakoff debuted on TAL in 1996 with his recollection of a surreal episode of performance-art-meets-commerce when he played "Christmas Freud" in the window display at Barney's department store. He became a frequent contributor to the program: eloquent and erudite and very, very funny – even more so when he was at his bleakest. (You can find his entire TAL archive here; I encourage you to drop everything and go give him a long listen right now.)

He was the author of several collections of essays, including Don't Get Too Comfortable and Fraud. His most recent book, 2010's Half Empty, won the Thurber Prize for American Humor. Rakoff also scripted and costarred in the short film "The New Tenants," which won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short in 2010.

Rakoff was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in 2010, which he discussed with characteristic candor and wit in an interview with Jon Stewart (clip below). After a long illness, he passed away last night. He'll be missed.

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