David Rakoff, an award-winning humorist whose cynical outlook on life and culture developed a loyal following of readers and radio listeners, died Aug. 9 after a long battle with cancer. He was 47.
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.”
Rakoff also appeared in several plays by David and Amy Sedaris, in films including “Strangers With Candy” and “Capote” and as a guest on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.”
In addition, 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.
“The world is a little less kind and a little less beautiful today,” his longtime editor, Bill Thomas, said in a statement.
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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.”
“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.”
David Benjamin Rakoff was born in Montreal and raised in Toronto. He graduated from Columbia in 1986 with a degree in East Asian studies.
He is survived by his parents; a brother, Simon, a standup comedian; and a sister, Ruth, who penned her own memoir about fighting cancer.