Writer David Rakoff, who is perhaps best known for his humorous essays and his contributions to the radio program This American Life, died Thursday at the age of 47 after a battle with cancer.
The website, Third Beat, writes that Rakoff’s brother Simon confirmed the news on his Facebook page.
Rakoff contributed to This American Life, and his dry but soft voice was a regular presence on the program. I first remember hearing Rakoff’s voice on a TAL episode that ran shortly after the 9/11 attacks as he recounted a tale of the General Slocum steamship.
Most recently, I happened to catch Rakoff’s utterly stunning performance during the This American Life live show, which took place in Manhattan on New York University’s campus. I wasn’t able to attend the actual event, but several movie theaters broadcast the show, and I was transfixed by his story of surgery for a tumor and the toll that radiation and chemotherapy had taken on him and how his most recent surgery had, as he says, “severed the nerves in my left arm” and allowed him to “shrug Talmudically.” And then, at the end of his segment and as if in a dream (a point of the story), Rakoff danced across the stage by himself. It was a beautiful moment.
Rakoff’s portion of the performance is available here.
There are stretches of triumph that feel like cosmic rewards for good behavior followed by inexplicable setbacks that seem like indictments of your character. With so much muddy logic crowding out reason, it’s best when news, good or bad, is delivered quickly and clearly. I will forever be grateful to my oncologist for opening the door and saying, “Damn it, the tumor’s 10 percent bigger,” before he even said hello.