De mortuis nil nisi bonum


The British do obituaries better than anyone else. Far from foisting the duty off on entry-level reporters, British newspapers seem to put their best writers to the task of remembering the recently departed. Even if you've never heard of the deceased, the obituary will draw you in with vivid detail and anecdote. It's not unusual to see an obit of someone who was never particularly famous, but nevertheless lived a fascinating life. For example, today the Telegraph has obituaries of Kenneth Swan, proprietor of a cruise line that featured on-board lectures on ancient history, Steve Marcus, saxophonist with Buddy Rich's band, and American playwright August Wilson. The death of the chemist who invented Valium provides occasion for a glimpse at the societal impact of anti-anxiety drugs.

As distinctive as British obits are, I never expected to read a death notice as blunt as the Telegraph's post-mortem of American pop-psych author M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled:

Its opening sentence, "Life is difficult", introduced a tome which argued, uncontentiously and sensibly, that human experience was trying and imperfectible, and that only self-discipline, delaying gratification, acceptance that one's actions have consequences, and a determined attempt at spiritual growth could make sense of it. By contrast, Peck himself was, by his own admission, a self-deluding, gin-sodden, chain-smoking neurotic whose life was characterised by incessant infidelity and an inability to relate to his parents or children. "I'm a prophet, not a saint," he explained in an interview earlier this year....

Latterly he suffered from impotence and Parkinson's Disease and devoted himself to Christian songwriting, at which he was not very good.

He married Lily Ho in 1959; they had three children, two of whom would not talk to their father. She left him in 2003. He is survived by his second wife, Kathy, an educationalist he picked up, while still married, after a lecture at Sacramento, and by his children.

(Hat tip to Joey McKeown.)

You can find Telegraph obituaries here -- free registration required.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on October 4, 2005 3:32 PM.

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