David Rakoff with a post illness beard

On Thursday night, as midnight approached, the essayist and author David Rakoff passed away in his Manhattan apartment. He had been battling a recurrence of cancer – a pain he thought had been a pinched nerve – which he covered in his latest collection of essays, HALF EMPTY. It was not a shock to his close friends; he shared with them that he would probably pass away in August. But it left the thousands of his fans and admirers astonished.

Rakoff, 47, was a dyspeptic voice of Jewish Generation Y. He essays were filled with humor and optimistic pessimism. His stories included ones on climbing Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire on a cold stormy Christmas in a possible test of ennobling manhood (“Just think, the shoes I wouldn’t be caught dead in might actually turn out to be the shoes I am caught dead in.”); and of growing up in Toronto where he and other children of professionals sang the Internationale, committed themselves to Zionist Socialism, and did an instructional stint in a kibbutz chicken coop. He once played a form of “Jewy McHebrew” on a soap opera, and imagined himself in a recurring role. Other essays included ones on his summer at a kibbutz, where he compared sabra machismo to his perceived lack of Canadian masculinity; teaching English in Japan; meeting Steven Seagal to study Tibetan Buddhism; making wallets of duct tape; presenting friends with craft gifts he made; and lately, of dealing with illness and potential amputation. His most famous essays were heard on the radio show, This American Life with Ira Glass. In the preface to his book, FRAUD, Rakoff wrote, “You’re maudlin and full of self-pity. You’re magnificent.”

In 2010, Rakoff’s latest book received the Thurber Prize for American Humor; it was the same year that his adapted film, “The New Tenants,’ won the Academy Award for best live action short. He is survived by his mother Gina Shochat-Rakoff, MD; his father, Vivian Rakoff, MD; his brother, Simon, a well-known Canadian comic; and his sister, Ruth Rakoff, whose memoir, “When My World Was Very Small” (2010), recounts her own battle with cancer. Five weeks ago, Rakoff turned in the manuscript for what will be his posthumously published novel, written in verse, called “Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die; Cherish, Perish”

Hamlisch – The Way He Was

This week, we also lost another luminary in arts and drama. Marvin Hamlisch, 68, passed away suddenly in Los Angeles.

Hamlisch won Oscars, Grammys, Emmys, Golden Globes, a Pulitzer Prize, and a Tony. he wrote the score for “A Chorus Line,” wrote Barbra Streisand’s most famous song (The Way We Were), “Life Is What You Make It,” “The Entertainer” (From “The Sting”), “Nobody Does It Better” (from a Bond film, “The Spy Who Loved Me”); Aretha Franklin’s “Break It to Me Gently”, as well as key scores for “The Way We Were” (1973), “The Sting” (1973),”Ordinary People” (1980), and “Sophie’s Choice” (1982). Most recently, he worked on a show based on Jerry Lewis’ The Nutty Professor.

Marvin was the son of Jewish refugees from Vienna, and at the age of seven he became the youngest student ever accepted at Juilliard. He was expected to be the next Horowitz, but as a teen, he was already a rehearsal pianist and assistant vocal arranger for “Funny Girl,” starring Barbra Streisand.

The funeral – open to the public – will be Tuesday, August 14, at Manhattan’s 2500 seat Temple Emanu-el.

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2 Comments

  • FYI – Jewlicious readers in Ontario
    David Rakoff Funeral – Toronto – Wednesday August 15. Scarborough graveside

    Shiva – parent’s apt – Toronto/Rosedale – minyans each evening

    public Memorial service – Congregation Habonim, Toronto – Sunday August 19, 3 PM, i think.

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