Remembering P.J. O'Rourke (1947-2022)

Photo of writer P.J. O'Roarke sitting in a rattan chair
My first magazine subscription when I was a kid was for Mad magazine, followed in short order by National Lampoon. It was in National Lampoon that I first read writing that both
made me laugh out loud and but was also so stylish that I wanted to learn how to write myself. Those hilariously raunchy, absurd, and punchy articles and stories were written by this man.

One of the only times I ever got in trouble at school was when I smuggled in a National Lampoon magazine, which I then loaned to a friend, who then busted out laughing when he read the O'Rourke article I had pointed out to him. We both got reprimanded but we both agreed it was worth it. That stuff was funny as hell. 

O'Rourke then went on to appear in nearly every other funny or politically-charged or literary or hip magazine that a voracious young reader like me was able to find in my rural Florida hometown. No matter which magazine I picked up next, he seemed to be in it: The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Playboy, Esquire, Harper's, the whole dang magazine rack. He almost always showed his signature talent of writing dumb and ribald humor while somehow also being intelligent, informed, and sly. Knowing this kind of writing existed filled my sophomoric heart.

It wasn't until reading him for quite a few years that I noticed his political opinions were not usually consistent with my own. When this first became apparent to me, I simply shrugged it off as unimportant, because I admired his wit so much. Later, though, as the temper of our political thought became more divisive, his ability to disagree with me became seriously important to me. O'Rourke became a bright light to me in conservative and libertarian writing and thought because he was one of the few who could articulate his skepticism of government's ability to do good without also infuriating me or depressing me.

Losing him feels like losing an honored member of the loyal opposition. It also feels a little bit like losing an improbable but enduring role model.

Here's Neil Genzlinger's obituary for O'Rourke in The New York Times. Katharine Q. Seelye and Alex Traub contributed reporting.

– J.F. "Jeff" McCullers