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Writer and satirist P.J. O'Rourke dies at 74

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

P.J. O'Rourke and I were in a group of correspondents during the 1991 Gulf War who wound up at a staging area where a young lieutenant told us that if there was a poison gas attack that night, we should reach for our gas masks before we shucked off our sleeping bags. It's more important for you to breathe, she said, than to be fully clothed. P.J. told her, you say that because you're young.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE WEDNESDAY'S "KICKFLIPS")

SIMON: P.J. O'Rourke was a wit among wisenheimers, a Toledo, Ohio, guy on a National Lampoon staff filled with Harvard grads, a libertarian conservative in a literary form filled with liberal voices.

The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer and remove the crabgrass on your lawn, P.J. wrote in his 1991 book "Parliament Of Whores." The Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work, and then they get elected and prove it.

P.J. wrote many bestselling books of wit and reportage. He was, of course, also a longtime panelist on our Saturday companion here, Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me.

P.J. died this week from lung cancer at the age of 74.

Being a humorist is not a voluntary thing, he once wrote. You can tell this because in a situation where saying a funny thing will cause a lot of trouble, a humorist will still say the funny thing, no matter how inappropriate.

He also wrote, always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it. So I'll try to keep one of P.J. O'Rourke's books on my nightstand, just in case something happens in the middle of the night.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE WEDNESDAY'S "KICKFLIPS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.