PJ O’Rourke, Conservative Political Satirist, Dies at 74

PJ O’Rourke, the satirist, political commentator and best-selling author known for books like “Parliament of Whores: A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire US Government,” for outspoken articles in a wide range of magazines, and for appearances on the NPR show “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me” and numerous television talk shows, died on Tuesday at his home in Sharon, NH He was 74.

The cause was complications of lung cancer, said Deb Seager, the director of publicity at Grove/Atlantic, Mr. O’Rourke’s publisher.

Mr. O’Rourke, whose political writing was in the caustic tradition of HL Mencken, was a proud conservative Republican — one of his books was called “Republican Party Reptile: The Confessions, Adventures, Essays and (Other) Outrages of PJ O’ Rourke” — but he was widely admired by readers of many stripes, because of his fearless style and his willingness to mock just about anyone who deserved it, including himself. In “Republican Party Reptile” he recalled his youthful flirtation with Mao.

“But I couldn’t stay a Maoist forever,” he wrote. “I got too fat to wear bell-bottoms. And I realized that communism meant giving my golf clubs to a family in Zaire.”

In 2010, The New York Times invited him and assorted other prominent people to define “Republican” and “Democrat.” I have offered this:

“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 get elected and prove it.”

Mr. O’Rourke was prolific. In addition to some 20 books, he wrote a column for The Daily Beast for a time and appeared regularly in The Atlantic, The American Spectator, Rolling Stone and The Weekly Standard, where he was a contributing editor. He was the conservative side of a point-counterpoint segment on “60 Minutes” in the mid-1990s and a guest on “Real Time With Bill Maher,” “The Daily Show,” “Charlie Rose” and other talk shows.

Mr. O’Rourke was most often identified as a political satirist, but his subjects ranged well beyond the political. His first book by him, published in 1983 (and reissued in 1989), was called “Modern Manners: An Etiquette Book for Rude People.”

“Good manners can replace intellect by providing a set of memorized responses to almost every situation in life,” he wrote. “Memorized responses eliminate the need for thought. Thought is not a very worthwhile pastime anyway. Thinking allows the brain, an inert and mushy organ, to exert unfair domination over more sturdy and active body parts.”

The book was full of practical advice, including this for gentlemen: “A hat should be taken off when you greet a lady and left off for the rest of your life. Nothing looks more stupid than a hat.”

For many fans, his signature book was “Parliament of Whores,” first published in 1991.

“Although this is a conservative book,” Mr. O’Rourke explained in the opening pages, “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.”

Signe Wilkinson, reviewing that book in The Times, wrote: “A spin with PJ O’Rourke is like a ride in the back of an old pickup over unpaved roads. You get where you’re going fast, with exhilarating views but not without a few bruises.”

A complete obituary will appear shortly.

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