Art Buchwald dies; satirist won Par suit


Art Buchwald, the beloved, Pulitzer Prize-winning satirist whose work in Hollywood was marked by landmark legal wranglings, has died. He was 81.

Buchwald died Wednesday at his home in Washington. He had been in failing health, and his prolonged physical decline provided him opportunity to turn his biting wit on his own mortality.

A celebrated humor columnist, he won the Pulitzer for newspaper commentary in 1982 and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1986. Buchwald also was a screenwriter and playwright, but he mostly will be remembered in Hollywood for the legal showdown over profits from the Eddie Murphy film "Coming to America."

A judge ruled that Paramount stole Buchwald's idea and in 1992 awarded $900,000 to him and a partner. The case established that the studio based the movie on a film treatment Buchwald had written for Paramount, which had refused to acknowledge his role in the development of the 1986 comedy.

The ruling is considered watershed in establishing the legal rights of profit participants in Hollywood, infamous for its Byzantine accounting practices.

"The money was irrelevant to him, as he was well-established financially," said Pierce O'Donnell, the Los Angeles attorney who represented Buchwald in the court battle with Paramount. "He said time and time again that if they could steal from Art Buchwald, they could steal from anybody. So for him, it was a very important cause celebre. Art wasn't worried about his next movie deal or who he might offend; he was very principled."

Buchwald's son, Joel, said his father passed away quietly at the younger Buchwald's home, where he had been living. He had refused dialysis treatments for his failing kidneys a year ago and was expected to die within weeks of moving to a hospice Feb. 7. When death didn't come nearly as quickly as expected, Buchwald wrote that he had to scrap his funeral plans, rewrite his living will, buy a new cell phone and get on with his improbable life. "I also had to start worrying about Bush again," he deadpanned.

On Thursday, he was seen in a prerecorded video on the New York Times' Web site saying, "Hi, I'm Art Buchwald, and I just died." The clip was part of a video obit prepared for the site.

Buchwald was called the "Wit of Washington" during his years there, and his name became synonymous with political satire. He was well known, too, for his wide smile and affinity for cigars.

A family spokeswoman said Buchwald would be interred at the Vineyard Haven Cemetery in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., where his wife Ann is buried.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.