David Rakoff, a talented writer and storyteller whose tales ranged from personal accounts of Christmas Day mountain-climbing to studying Buddhism with Steven Seagal, has died at age 47 following a battle with cancer. Rakoff was well-known for his appearances on NPR's 'This American Life' and his work as an essayist and humourist.
George is a big fan of David's work and saddened to hear of his passing: "A few years ago, I saw David speak at IdeaCity in Toronto. He was an incredible storyteller. He brought people into his experiences, emotionally and mentally, and in a single moment he could make you laugh and cry. He'll be missed."
Rakoff, who was born in Montreal and raised in Toronto, worked in the New York book publishing industry after studying at Columbia University. He developed his singular worldview in his writing for various publications, including the New York Times Magazine and GQ. Entertainment Weekly describes his style as "a bemused, trenchant pessimism, informed in equal meausure by his Jewish cultural heritage, his homosexuality, an dhis inveterate loyalty to his adopted home of New York City."
In 2001, he published his first essay collection, 'Fraud', following it up with 'Don't Get Too Comfortable' in 2005. But his first love was acting - David starred in and cowrote the short film 'The New Tenants', co-starring Vincent D'Onofrio and Kevin Corrigan, which won an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. Check out the trailer below:
While he was working on his third book, 2010's 'Half Empty', David was diagnosed with a cancerous tumour under his left arm, which caused him extreme pain. But David turned even his pain and medical experiences into storytelling: he told the story of the effects of a recent surgery on an episode of 'This American Life' called 'Invisible Made Visible'.
Many people have taken to Twitter today to express their grief. Here are a few of the Tweets, including George's:
Truly sad to hear of the passing of David Rakoff. A monumental storyteller. He could move you to tears and laughter in a single thought. RIP— G. Stroumboulopoulos (@strombo) August 10, 2012
Goodbye, David Rakoff. With love. Thank you for the creamed spinach recipe.— hodgman (@hodgman) August 10, 2012
We're sad to hear about David Rakoff's death.We're changing today's show in honor of him.Today on— NPR's Fresh Air (@nprfreshair) August 10, 2012
@nprfreshair: David Rakoff.
I find writing extraordinarily difficult and not very pleasurable, though I find having done it very pleasurable. DAVID RAKOFF (1964-2012)— Jon Winokur (@AdviceToWriters) August 10, 2012
David Rakoff has died. Genius writer. Wonderful, caring, generous man. Please celebrate his life by reading his work. I'm glad he lived.— John Moe (@johnmoe) August 10, 2012
For a sense of how Rakoff looked at life - and his own mortality - here's an excerpt from an essay published last year in the New York Times Magazine, about being treated for "a rather tenacious sarcoma around the area of my left collarbone." He was told by a medical technician to have "a fantastic day." Here is what he wrote about the experience:
"Fantastic days are what you wish upon those who have so few sunrises left, those whose lungs are so lesion-spangled with new cancer that they should be embracing as much life as they can. Time's a-wasting, go out and have yourself a fantastic day!
Fantastic days are for goners."
As for his opinion on what that kind of statement does for its recipient (he calls it "the empathy broadcast") Mr. Rakoff concludes:
"...it does not soften the blow, indeed it does the opposite. It leaves you exposed, like grabbing onto the trunk of a tree for support in a storm only to find the wood soaked through and punky and coming apart in your hands. The sweetest bedtime-story delivery is no help when the words it delivers are a version of '... and behind this door is a tiger. Brace yourself.'"