Art Buchwald’s last laugh

“Hi. I’m Art Buchwald and I just died,” the humorist announces jovially in a video he made for his New York Times obituary.

Actually, he didn’t “just” die. He had been at it since last February, when he went off dialysis and checked himself into a hospice. But the expected death didn’t come and his hospice room became a salon, with Buchwald receiving and entertaining his huge circle of Washington acquaintances.

“I’m having a swell time. The best time of my life,” he told visitors. Readers of Buchwald might nominate Paris of the ’50s and Washington of the ’60s as the best times of his life, but the appealing thing about Buchwald was the absolute absence of self-pity and his engagement with life in the present.

Thwarted in his plans for a timely death, he checked out of the hospice, where he had continued writing his column, and resumed his life as best he could, which in Buchwald’s case was pretty good. He continued writing and entertaining and even summered on his beloved Martha’s Vineyard.

He had the manner of a carefree bon vivant, but life doesn’t always imitate art. He had an almost Dickensian childhood, in and out of orphanages and foster homes; fought battles with severe depression; and divorced a woman he loved and next to whom he will be buried.

Buchwald was a prolific writer. His play, “Sheep in the Runway,” had the bad luck to premiere on Broadway during a newspaper strike. To cite two of his writings: His unsparing autobiography, “Leaving Home,” and his wonderfully loopy Thanksgiving column, run annually since 1953, in which he explains “Le Jour Merci Donnant” to the French.

Buchwald died Wednesday at 81 at the home of his son. He said he was put on Earth to make people laugh. And he did.