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Journalist P.J. O’Rourke, scathing voice of the American right, dies at 74

Author of over twenty books, he was known for his satirical pieces on US politics

P.J. O’Rourke
P. J. O'Rourke, author of 'Peace Kills: America's Fun New Imperialism,' during a panel discussion in Chicago on June 5, 2004.Brian Kersey (AP)

American satirist P.J. O’Rourke died on Tuesday at the age of 74 from lung cancer. His caustic and corrosive ingenuity characterized his extensive work published in iconic counterculture magazines such as Rolling Stone or National Lampoon, and more than twenty books, including the best-sellers Parliament of Whores (1991) and Give War a Chance (1992). He viciously attacked the American political system, especially when the left was in power, but he gained followers from a wide ideological spectrum.

“P.J. was one of the leading voices of his generation,” said Morgan Entrekin, CEO of Grove/Atlantic, O’Rourke’s publisher. “His insightful reporting, verbal acuity, and gift at writing laugh-out-loud prose were unparalleled,” added Entrekin, who announced the journalist’s death in a statement.

As proof of his wit, when asked by The New York Times in a 2010 interview to define ‘Republican’ and ‘Democrat’, O’Rourke responded: “The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crab grass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then they get elected and prove it,” he said. In Parliament of Whores he also wrote: “Although this is a conservative book (...) it is not informed by any very elaborate political theory. I have only one firm belief about the American political system, and that is this: God is a Republican and Santa Claus is a Democrat.”

The author fiercely, and with a great deal of humor, defended the right-wing ideology until Donald Trump appeared on the map, which led him to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. “[She] is the second-worst thing that can happen to this country, but she’s way behind in second place,” he said in one of his talk show appearances on the NPR public radio show Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me. “She’s wrong about absolutely everything, but she’s wrong within normal parameters.” said the journalist.

“[O’Rourke] made his debut as a special guest on our first show after 9/11, when we needed someone to come on and be funny about terrible things, which, of course, was P.J.’s specialty,” the staff of the show said in a farewell statement. Peter Sagal, the show’s host, tweeted: “Most well-known people try to be nicer than they are in public than they are in private life. P.J. was the only man I knew to be the opposite.”

Patrick Jake O’Rourke was born in Toledo, Ohio, into a family “so normal as to be almost a statistical anomaly,” he once joked. Son of a car salesman and a housewife, he was a hippie activist during his student days but quickly gave up those ideas to find his place in liberal conservatism. In the 1980s he began working with various publications, including Rolling Stone, where he became foreign-affairs desk chief, a position he held until 2005, which allowed him to cover armed conflicts in different corners of the world. He also served as editor-in-chief at National Lampoon, where he met writer Douglas Kenney, with whom he later co-wrote Animal House and Caddyshack.

Besides working for magazines and radio, he participated in the renowned television news program 60 Minutes for a season and was a regular guest on Real Time With Bill Maher and The Daily Show, among others. In the early 1990s he moved to New Hampshire. According to his Grove/Atlantic biography, O’Rourke lived there to “get as far away from the things he writes about as he can get.”

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