Andrew Breitbart, RIP

Andrew Breitbart 2/10/12. Photo by Gage Skidmore. Via Wikinews.

I was asked if I had any particular thoughts on the death of Andrew Breitbart, and the primary answer to this is, holy shit, he was my age. He was older than me by about three months, which is a trivial amount of time. And unlike death of previous notable contemporaries, which were cause by drugs or suicide or relatively unusual fatal diseases, Breitbart appears to have been felled by a heart attack, which is not entirely outside the actuarial tables for men our age. As I’m sitting here typing this and also coincidentally eating my second slice of meat lover’s pizza, I can’t say Breitbart’s death doesn’t give me pause.

As for Breitbart the public figure and mini media mogul, well, I can’t say I was much of a fan, and at the moment I’m content to leave it at that. But as someone who’s looking at his 43rd birthday in two months and ten days, I feel I can say this with all sincerity: Dude, you left too soon.

119 Comments on “Andrew Breitbart, RIP”

  1. Folks:

    I would consider it to be not especially good taste to heap invective on a man so newly dead here in the comments. So if you have something negative to say about Mr. Breitbart, exercise rhetorical restraint and keep it on the polite side of pointed. A good model for you, perhaps: David Frum’s commentary on Breitbart.

  2. Definitely too young. I’m 44, and this kind of thing is scary.
    Douglas Adams died of a heart attack at 49.
    I wonder if it was an aortic dissection. They sneak up on you and can cause very sudden death. That’s what got John Ritter (died at 54) and Richard Biggs (44). My Dad also had one at age 62. He survived, but it caused a terrible stroke.

  3. I will say he was notably good at what he chose to do, something we should all aspire to.

    And while I had many issues with what he chose to do, the world has one fewer performance artists today.

  4. Hey John, who cares if Andrew Breitbart died, seriously. I mean, I am the same age as you and him (give or take 6 months) but who cares. Why is Breitbart’s passing any more OR any less important than any other human being’s passing?

    I understand he had a wife and children who are fairly young and will never see him again. I had a friend who went running in the morning and died of a massive coronary on his front lawn at the age of 40. He left behind two daughters. How was his passing any less important? I had a young supervisor who died of melanoma at the age of 43 and also left behind two daughters. How was his passing any less important?

    There are 100s of Syrians dying every day in Homs and other cities there trying to gain a measure of freedom. How are their deaths less important than Breitbart?

    Also, how was he a great journalist? What or who are we to compare Mr. Breitbart to? Edward Morrow, Walter Cronkite, or Carl Bernstein? Truthfully of the things he’s known about he outright LIED about the Sherry Sherrod case, and LIED in the ACORN case. Is that journalism?

    Why should his life be celebrated and not you or I? I am sorry, I am not going to hate on the guy, BUT, he was nothing special, at least as far as his public persona will let you believe.

    Yes, RIP, but at least let’s moderate the discussion a bit, OK? I have seen way too many comments like yours, as if this person was someone important. I am sorry HE WAS NOT. Not at the very least. When I lost my best friend from cancer (form of leukemia) at 45, why should the World be any less devastated? He was an IT programmer and I can enumerate to you the programs he created that are assisting you right now. I can go on like this almost endlessly.

    Why chose to celebrate this man?

  5. …by which I don’t mean to say that it’s not disturbing when someone relatively young drops dead suddenly reminding each of us that we are mortal. But that actually has been true from day one. It’s just so easy to forget.

  6. I suddenly feel a disturbance in the Force, as if a Mallet of Loving Correction was stirring in its slumber…

    People have brought up how he trashed Ted Kennedy within hours of the announcement about his death as some kind of excuse for piling on Breitbart. My response is to ask if Breitbart was bad for doing it, how are you any less bad? Anyway, I didn’t agree with Breitbart on his politics but I have sympathy for his family and the pain they are going through.

  7. Well, I will miss him. Hearing of his death was like getting a punch in the gut. He did a LOT to advance the political discourse in this country by going out there, being bold (and somewhat offensive) in an attempt to help Conservatives and Libertarians (heck, even moderates) overcome their fear of voicing honest dissent to the PC cultural norms.

    He will be missed and best wishes to his family.

    On a side note: I chalk up his death to the fact that the human biological system is just so complex that sometimes extremely fit people in their prime (Look up Kellie Waymire) die suddenly while others who are in just rotten shape physically (See Winston Churchill) live long lives. It’s a testament to the human biological model that more people don’t die young.

  8. Hercules67:

    You’re executing a variation of the “There are children starving in Africa, WHAT ABOUT THEM?” rhetorical maneuver, which is annoying in the best of times.

    If you don’t want to talk about the topic at hand, don’t talk about the topic at hand. Don’t attempt to derail the discussion, however. That’s rude.

    If you want to choose the topics, start your own blog.

  9. Part of me wonders if he might have been saved with a defibrillator. Your forties can be heartstopping — like an arrhythmia from too much caffeine, causing your heart to beat so fast it only flutters and can’t pump blood. Happened to me at 41. As my vision began to turn black like a train heading into a tunnel, I hit the middle of my chest as hard as I could with my fist and got a regular rhythm going again. Something I learned watching TV. But not everyone can feel the beat of an arrhythmia before it’s too late. My friends now call me “Judy-what-her-heart-stops.” Yep, for those of us living on the edge, life becomes a veritable cornucopia of potential cardiac events.

  10. John:

    Easy to comply with your request.

    I hold Breitbart’s alleged “journalism” in utter contempt and there will be many a time and place to heap well-deserved ordure on that.

    I’m in no position to comment on what the man was like as a husband and father, and his family have done nothing to me or mine. They have my sincere condolences.

  11. Yes, John, but explain this to me: How did his death impact you?

    — Was it because of his age and you felt your mortality?
    — Was it because he was someone famous?
    — Something else?

    That’s all I am trying to understand.

  12. My only comment would be this: No one plans to die young, obviously. But I wonder if, had he realized that the end was coming, that this is the legacy, the reputation, that he would truly have wanted to leave. Regardless of his intention, he did not leave a very positive opus, so to speak.

    It’s a bit of a sobering thing to think about, I suppose. It’s not a bad thing to live like you’d want to be remembered.

  13. Mr. Sclazi: First off, you continue to impress me as an individual with incredible class. We need more people like you around.

    Love him or hate him I think Breitbart did a great service to America. He showed a lot of Americans that it was possible for someone outside of the establishment media to have an impact on the national political discourse. He wasn’t the first or the only one but his part was definitely a good sized chunk of where we are today. I won’t get into my opinions on his views but I do feel that his impact was a positive one. For that, I think he should be missed.

  14. hercules67:

    Please go back and read the fraking post and stop poking our host. An innocent by-stander may get injured if John loses control of his mallet.

  15. Ding dong, and the world is a somewhat better place now. I can’t get upset at the death of a malicious liar who made it his mission to ruin the careers of people he disagreed with.

  16. I know, I read it.

    So why then did that answer deserve a blog post considering your opinion of the man? That to me is confusing.

    I can understand David Frum and his obit (interesting it was)… But not your few words. Still, I’ve hijacked the thread enough. Sorry. Feel free to edit me out. As you suggested I am off to my own devices.

    And I have no ill feelings towards anyone dead. RIP. Prayers do go to his family especially. But I refuse to add my voice to those saying anything positive about this man’s life in the public arena.

  17. I was also struck by how young he was. I understand he had a wife and four kids. I feel for his family.

    When someone dies this young, it makes me make an accounting of my own life. It reminds me that time is precious.

  18. I very much liked what Josh Marshall at TPM said. The whole thing is here but the end of his post was what rang very true with me:

    Beneath all the layers of our public life, we’re sons, daughters; parents to sons and daughters: naked people at our most vulnerable, true moments. This is way, way too young to die, something I know palpably since Breitbart was only a week or so older than I am.

    Others knew him better, can memorialize him better. But for myself I wish the very best to his wife and children in this moment of unbearable grief and send my condolences to all his friends, of whom there were many.

  19. Andrew Breitbart was a fearless warrior and talented man who will be sorely missed. Thank you, John for the class you have shown with this post.

    This is not the time to argue politics. Andrew’s death is a stunning blow to the conservative community, but that is nothing compared to how devastating this is to his wife and four young children. I’m not a religious man, but I know that they would appreciate your prayers.

  20. Yes, Josh’s note was a welcome bright spot. He and John showed true class in not using this tragedy to grind axes.

  21. I left my tasteless invective on another blog, but at least I was sincere.

    To your main point, John, 43 was almost three years ago for me. I had an uncle die at 48 from an anyeurism, lost my mother to complications from diabetes at 57, and a grandmother to cancer at 58.

    I am going to be one nervous nelly these next 12 years.

  22. I agree that Josh Marshall is a class act, and that’s where the most meaningful obit’s lie, not with what Breitbart’s friends said about him, but what his opponents said. Of course Marshall’s comments are a bit of an exception compared to what’s being put out on twitter.

    As for me, I would say bring on the invective. That would be his best tribute that he pissed so many of who he would consider the right people, off.

  23. I actually don’t know very much about Andrew Breitbart, except that he played a non-trivial role in bringing down Acorn, which was an organization that (despite what you heard on Fox News or AM radio) gave real help to people who needed it. In at least that way, he helped do what I see as real and lasting harm to a lot of people in this nation, and left the gaps between those with access to legal representation and those without that much wider.

  24. eviljwinter: I was born 40 years ago with a congenital disability which probably would have killed me by now if I’d been born much before that time. Turning 40 in January, and knowing that I’m in relatively good health for someone with my condition, has done two things. First, it’s made me appreciate my life that much more. Second, it’s going to make me nervous as hell going forward. The doctors tell me there’s “no reason to think I won’t have a normal lifespan”, but they follow that up by reminding me I’m part of the “first generation” of people with my condition, who received successful surgical intervention, who’ve managed to survive this long. So there’s literally nothing in the medical literature to back up the “normal lifespan” claims. They just don’t know.

  25. Bummer. I must be woefully uninformed since I knew nothing about this guy until reading this post. I feel for his family the most. We should all be so lucky to live a longer life. It doesn’t become easier when people who are older die, but at least it feels a little more like the natural cycle of things.

  26. John,

    Yes, aware of your history with Josh. First time you noted that it amused me since I’d been reading TPM since it was launched and was pretty much just him.. TPM is one of the shining examples of how committed, interested people can build influential media presences. His early hires have mostly gone on to shine elsewhere too. I have a feeling that when we look back at this time Josh’s influence will stand out in a way similar to those sports coaches whose disciples permeate the league 20 years in.

  27. I don’t see how the man could be called a “warrior”, especially after libelling Sherry Sherrod. Outside of deepest Conservatania, that kind of behavior is known as bullying.

  28. Very nice post. It is always good to see, in such partisan times, those who still have the gift of disagreeing without being disagreeable. I’m only a couple years younger than Breitbart was, and I have young kids as he did, so I feel for his family.

  29. @Billy, it strikes me as a bit odd to cheer on Breitbart as a political figure and then scold everybody else who might want to discuss politics.

    To cheer about his death would be to say that people can never change or redeem themselves, and that wishing death on political opponents is A-OK. Whatever my opinion of Breitbart, he was a human being and his family will miss him. I hope that they find peace.

  30. I agree with Anonymous Soprano. In addition to living like you’d want to be remembered, be mindful of all your blessings and cherish your loved ones. No one is guaranteed the average life expectancy.

  31. To make things short and bittersweet: I’m inclined to think a man who dies at 43 of a heart attack either had a bum ticker or was engaging in some sort of risky behavior even if that behavior was no more out of the ordinary than drinking too much and eating all the wrong things all while not getting enough exercise.

    I also think Gulliver is right about stress. I’ll add, though, I don’t believe a second slice of pizza here and there will kill you. Don’t let death make you afraid of life.

    There. I think I behaved myself rather well.

  32. My first thought on hearing of Breibart’s death was that the mallet of loving correction came down hard… wonder what he did this time? Sigh.

    My aunt was the Breibart’s age when she died. She seemed quite old, now 40 years later I realize just how young she really was.

  33. Early reports from friends are that Andrew had known heart problems; whether those reports are accurate, what those problems were, and if the death was due to those, await answers from autopsy. Survived by his wife and their four children, other relatives, friends, and enemies.

    Rest in Peace.

  34. I don’t have anything to say about Breitbart, and as you said John I’ll leave it there. But for you, I could understand how you may me feeling a tug at your own mortality but to be honest I think you’ll be just fine! I’ve been following your blog for more than few years now and just through the post it seems you’ve really taken a hold on your health and that’s a big step. We don’t have to exercise and eat tofu but eating healthy and trying to stay stress free is extremely important. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Breitbart’s personality was unfortunately a stressed filled one. Living a life full of stress is the same as playing a game of Russian roulette, eventually you’re going to push too far, and it’s going to be too late and get the best of you when you don’t expect it. I agree he went too soon.

  35. I like happy rabble-rousers of all stripes whether they largely agree with me (e.g., Breitbart) or largely they don’t (e.g., Scalzi). As Philip K. Dick said of Heinlein “our political differences are neither here nor there” — we should all like someone who engages that ferociously in the public space. I’m only a year and change behind Breitbart. Scary that anyone should die so young.

  36. From the David Frum piece that John mentions:

    “In time, Andrew Breitbart might have aged into greater self-control and a higher concept of public service. Premature death deprived him of the chance at redemption often sought and sometimes found by people who have done wrong in their lives and work.

    “And this is where it becomes difficult to honor the Roman injunction to speak no ill of the dead. It’s difficult for me to assess Breitbart’s impact upon American media and American politics as anything other than poisonous. When one of the leading media figures of the day achieves his success by his giddy disdain for truth and fairness—when one of our leading political figures offers to his admirers a politics inflamed by rage and devoid of ideas—how to withhold a profoundly negative judgment on his life and career? …

    “Public figures are inescapably judged by their public actions. When those public actions are poisonous, the obituary cannot be pleasant reading.”

  37. I’ve left my own tasteless invective on my own blog, so those who wish to may follow the link in my user ID.

    All that said, I’m 50 and contemplating how a constant state of barely controlled rage (which I’ve been in sine Sept 12, 2001) can kill you.

  38. Scalzi: exercise rhetorical restraint and keep it on the polite side of pointed.

    Behave yourselves!!!! You freaks and animals!!! You filthy, filthy, filthy….

    Gulliver: Stress is a leading cause of heart disease…

    yes. yes it is.

  39. I didn’t like the guy, but I’m definitely going to miss him. Yes, miss him.

    His worldview and choice of behavior were incredibly, massively different than mine, and I found him a very good source for exposing myself to viewpoints, argument, and rhetoric with which I did not at all agree, and didn’t particularly like. His invective was often a great way of exposing myself to a mindset and viewpoint and moral stance with which I have little to no affinity and would not put up with from anyone claiming to be my friend, and I found that one part of an important and useful method for not allowing myself to be stuck in a bubble of Thoughts I Already Agree With, as well as a means of encountering Things Which Would Normally Piss Me Off and getting a chance to realize that there’s little point in being pissed off about any of them.

    And, seriously, no matter how much of a blowhard anyone is, 43 is just too damn young.

  40. It’s telling about Breitbart’s methods that the initial general reaction when the news broke was “bullshit, it must be a stunt; does he have a book coming out?” This is not what one would think when a real journalist dies too young (eg, Tim Russert).

    I feel bad for his family. But the man was a known boozer, with weight and anger issues, and a rumored bum ticker. The cards were stacked against him, and stuff like the infamous “behave yourselves!!!” freakout couldn’t have helped. Let’s take that as a lesson in our own 40something lives.

    Me, I’ll just be over here, hoping his empire crumbles without an heir.

  41. I am not so much concerned about the meat lovers pizza as I am about you eating shitty delivery pizza. Dominos / Pizza Hut is such tripe. There HAS to be a decent non-national place near you somewhere that might deliver.

    Friends don’t let friends eat Dominoes. You can do better than this. Don’t make your readers confront you with Pizza Intervention

  42. I read about Breitbart dying, and I can’t get angry. just think about Avery Brooks at the end of American History X, and I wish someone had asked Breitbart, “Has anything you’ve done made your life better?”

  43. @ Cole Drewes

    We don’t have to exercise and eat tofu but eating healthy and trying to stay stress free is extremely important.

    Here, here. My last year at USC I worked as a sports nutritional advisor. Job title aside, my door was open to all students, not just athletes. I lost track of how often I heard people tell me that they’d live a healthier lifestyle if they had the time to go to the gym or the money to buy organic food. More often than not, they didn’t even realize they were saying, if I can’t be Mr. or Mrs. Universe, why bother. But the first twenty minutes of exercise are more valuable than the next two hours, even if all you do is go for a light jog or a few sets of push-ups and crunches, so do the twenty minutes (plus ten minutes of stretching). If you can’t commit to do it daily, do it every other day. That half hour every other day could add decades to your life, and surely that’s a reasonable trade. And maybe organic fruits are better for you than regular fruits, but I absolutely promise that any fruits are astronomically healthier than greasy carbohydrates or faux-food like they serve at Not-A-Burger and other atherosclerosis troughs. The smallest changes make the biggest impact. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    @ JD Rhoades

    All that said, I’m 50 and contemplating how a constant state of barely controlled rage (which I’ve been in sine Sept 12, 2001) can kill you.

    I think everyone needs to take some time to vent now and again. But if you stay at that negative emotional high all the time, the only people who suffer are yourself and those who love you. It may sound sanctimonious, but if I couldn’t take a step back from the madness and dwell instead in life’s many joys, I’d go mad too. Remember the love and goodness in humanity, or the hate and anger have already won. Carl said it better than I ever could:

  44. Cpierson:

    I feel bad for his family. But the man was a known boozer, with weight and anger issues, and a rumored bum ticker. The cards were stacked against him, and stuff like the infamous “behave yourselves!!!” freakout couldn’t have helped. Let’s take that as a lesson in our own 40something lives.

    Yeah, the lesson I’m going to take is not to go to a funeral and tell the family of the deceased they really shouldn’t be surprised they are where they are because their loved one had a shitty lifestyle. Here’s something else to put in the ‘for another time and place” file – how profoundly unhelpful unsolicited health advice from total strangers is when you’re trying to deal with lifestyle issues like bad diet or alcohol/substance abuse.

  45. @ Craig Ranapia

    Here’s something else to put in the ‘for another time and place” file – how profoundly unhelpful unsolicited health advice from total strangers is when you’re trying to deal with lifestyle issues like bad diet or alcohol/substance abuse.

    Sorry, you’re right of course. I just believe it’s important to note that small changes can make a world of difference and, since one of John’s points was that this made him think about his own mortality, I was hoping it might be a good impetus for people to think about the cumulative detriments of ignoring their health since we do, after all, only get one go round at life. I knew nothing about Breitbart’s personal lifestyle, only his professional one, and I didn’t mean to hold him up as an example of hard living. But you’re right, this wasn’t the venue. I withdraw my unsolicited advice.

  46. The best obit I have seen is by David Frum here:

    Last line:

    ” We live in a time of political and media demagoguery unparalleled since the 19th century. Many of our most important public figures have gained their influence and power by inciting and exploiting the ugliest of passions—by manipulating fears and prejudices—by serving up falsehoods as reported truth. In time these figures will one by one die. What are we to say of this cohort, this group, this generation? That their mothers loved them? That their families are bereaved? That their fans admired them and their employees treated generously by them? Public figures are inescapably judged by their public actions. When those public actions are poisonous, the obituary cannot be pleasant reading. ”

    On the one hand not criticizing the dead is just good manners. On the other hand I can’t imagine Breitbart foregoing the opportunity for one last stab. Yet on the gripping hand those who cheer his death may have more in common with him than they would like to admit.

  47. First heart attacks are more likely to be fatal in younger men. It may be that they are predisposed to having “the big one” so that guys in their 60s & 70s are more likely to survive that first one & able to affect change. Still its a shock to see a guy 2/3s my age go this way.

    As for commenting on his life I will suggest you look up how Mr B handled the death of Ted Kennedy, a real classy man that Mr. B. He is in a better world now, and so are we.

  48. I think this is exactly the right time to note the dangers of an unhealthy life. It’s not like anyone’s going to be talking about this three weeks from now. If you don’t look at it now and say “jeez, overweight and angry is no way for someone with a history of heart trouble to live,,” it’s not going to get said. It’s not like people are all nodding to one another and saying “y’know, crack IS wack” about Whitney Houston. We’ve just compartmentalized and moved on. If you don’t talk about it now, while the “holy crap he’s my age” is still fresh, you don’t talk about it at all.

    And of course I wouldn’t talk about it at his funeral. But this? Not his funeral. This is a blog frequented by a lot of fat middle-aged men (and others, yes I know you’re there) who should look at our lifestyles when someone keels over at 43. The Breitbart kinder have other things to do besides read John Scalzi’s blog, I suspect, even at the best of times.

  49. Three thoughts, in roughly the order they occurred to me.

    1. I feel sorry for his family, having to lose a loved one like that is always devastating, and I hope they have plenty of friends and family around to support them in this trying time. I hope the inevitable hate-froth can be kept from them by their friends until at least they’ve had time to grieve. it is a hard time, and that will just make it harder.

    2.I can’t say I don’t think the level of debate in the US (and by extension the rest of the world) won’t improve with his absence though.I wouldn’t have wished its removal by his death, but the more silence from far-right commentators the better.

    3. John, have you ever tried deep-fried pizza in batter? it is awesome.

  50. Yeah, what Frum said. Breitbart and those like him hold a great deal of responsibility for the acridly partisan nature of political discourse in our country today. The announced departure of Sen. Snowe being only the latest example of its effect.

    I’m truly sorry for his wife and kids, but he didn’t contribute anything positive or constructive to public life, I won’t miss him one, damn bit.

  51. I’ll give him the same send off he tweeted about Ted Kennedy upon his death: AndrewBreitbart was a special pile of ……”

  52. Whatever else he was or did he was someone’s family member and friend. Condolences to his family and friends. RIP Mr. Breitbart.

  53. LOL, amazing that so many who decide to comment on this news cannot do so without ultimately knocking the the guy. So sad really.

  54. Dorothy Sayers said it best: “”Well. De mortuis, and all that, but I wasn’t exactly keen on him. I thought him rather an unwholesome little beast.”

  55. Well, perhaps this will be a lesson to other people unashamed of being rabidly dishonest in service to cheap notoriety and/or a paycheck: don’t assume you can always make up for it later.

  56. From reading personal accounts of his life, I think he rather enjoyed the invective people heaped upon him. Just being talked about seemed enough – and we are talking about him.

    Let us bury him, not praise him; let the bad that was done be interred with his bones.

  57. I’m sure he loved his wife and family and will be missed by them.

    By all accounts, Albert Einstein was a rotten husband and a miserable father.

  58. As I saw elsewhere on the internet — “It’s a shame he passed away before he had a chance to make a positive impact upon the world.”

    Condolences to his family.

  59. I have been clobbered for saying this before, but regardless of how I feel about a person’s stand there is something to be admired in those who act on the courage of their convictions. Maybe they could do it better, more honestly (with themselves as well as the rest), but at least they do something. I may have disagreed with Mr. Breitbart all of the time, but his death is not something to gloat over. Kids are without a dad today, a wife is without a husband, a son is gone. He was young by any measurement, and maybe he didn’t live a vegan lifestyle with lots of exercise and good habits, but hey most of us don’t. There is as much to genetics as there is to living healthy, I think (at least if my grandmother’s are any indication…). I don’t know why, but it seems like we are a bit too willing to beat up on one another, too unwilling to be the change we want to see in the world. In that spirit, I wish his family peace and strength to get through a tough time that is undoubtedly going to be made all the harder by the focus of the public on it.

  60. @ Dave: “… let the bad that was done be interred with his bones.”

    Unfortunately, it rarely works that way. There’s no shortage of people obviously eager to carry on his “legacy”.

  61. @ Clarence – I was going to mention that about heart attacks in younger individuals. The theory I’ve heard is not so much that the first one in younger victims is bigger but that we actually start with a smaller network of blood vessels connected to the heart and as we get older and we have minor but repairable damage the body builds additional blood vessels to feed that heart so that a blockage of one is not as devastating.

    As for Breitbart – he was younger than I so it is definitely a shock. Like John, I was not a fan (as much if not more for his tactics than his politics). I liked Frum’s obit/commentary. He does a good job of presenting what he sees as the good and the bad.

  62. John,
    I am 43 and just finishing heart rehab. 1 completely blocked artery and 1 at 70% both now stinted. No hints, good blood work in my physical no chest pain, just some really weird tingling and joint ache. So Breitbart hits close to home. Looks like a heart attack got the dude from the Monkees too. If Breitbart did die of a heart attack, if it is that sudden, his heart was not in a good way.

  63. What makes Breitbart more deserving of respect than Amy Winehouse, John? I am genuinely curious what makes her an open target for a punchline before her family has even sat Shiva, but other celebrities of whatever character are allowed their dignity. Since you are generally a classy guy, what factors led you to think your drive by pot shot on her passing was acceptable? I tend to ascribe these tendencies to the bad-girls-get-what-they-deserve meme of patriarchal bu…, um, “discourse,” but again, you’re not typically that kind of guy. So what gives?

  64. I’m, um, distinctly older than you, and I’ve been accumulating things about getting old I hadn’t known.
    One is that there’s a terrible transition when obituaries for people your own age stop saying “premature”.

  65. responses:
    Pat Kight says: Everyone dies too young.
    I wish that were universally true. Arthur Hlavaty’s obit for Roy Cohn said “The untimely (far too late) death . . . “.

    Kathryne says: but regardless of how I feel about a person’s stand there is something to be admired in those who act on the courage of their convictions.
    When a claim to fame is based on a career of sedition and lies, I, personally, can’t see that that applies.

  66. Meh, Breitbart truthers. 9/11 truthers. Iraq War Truthers. Obama birth certificate truthers. Sarah-isn’t-really-Trig’s-mother truthers. All “truthers” are nuts

  67. PrivateIron:

    Re: Ms. Winehouse, you’re making the assumption I was taking a potshot, rather than being being darkly sardonic about what I felt was a stupid waste of a life.

  68. Commenting on his life I will suggest you look up how Mr B handled the death of Ted Kennedy, a real classy man that Mr. B.

    What’s your point, Clarence?: As John, myself and many others have said we don’t have a particularly high opinion of his work. But I’m bemused by folks elsewhere who’ve done the pro forma denunciation of what an awful person he was, then proceeded to act like Rush Limbaugh on one of his more hateful jags.

  69. John:
    It seemed out of character to me, so I am happy to accept your explanation. Did not seem your style at all, but a lot of people seemed to be making a cheap laugh off her and I was “WTF Even Scalzi? Is there no decency left in the Interwebs?” You can take it as a good thing that I have higher expectations for you. Or bad that little bits of grit don’t get broken down in the gears of my mind even after so many months.

  70. eviljwinter wrote: To your main point, John, 43 was almost three years ago for me. I had an uncle die at 48 from an anyeurism, lost my mother to complications from diabetes at 57, and a grandmother to cancer at 58.

    I am going to be one nervous nelly these next 12 years.

    My father’s father died when he was 78. A few weeks before my father’s older brother was due to turn 78, Daddy told him, “You be careful now. Remember, Dad died when he was 78.” It turned out to his last conversation with his brother; my uncle didn’t make it to 78. Daddy’s health was such that there was no reason to think he’d make 70, let alone 78. You can bet everyone in the family raised their eyebrows and tread carefully back in 2001. But Daddy lived on, and on, and on…he had the laundry list of health problems all too common in the elderly, and he was one of the few who survived over 25 years after being diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Heck, he didn’t even have a cardiologist until having a pacemaker installed in November 2010. He also lived happily on his own, gardening, tinkering in his basement fixing things, cooking all his own healthy meals and more until 3 months after his 88th birthday. That’s when it turned out to be time for him to go.

    I credit my father’s long life despite the odds to one thing: attitude. All the comments here about the health risks of stress? My father was the most stress-free person I’ve ever known. It’s not that his life was free of things to be stressed about; far from it. He had an amazing ability to experience emotions, think things through, keep life’s comedies and tragedies in perspective, and simply keep on keeping on.

    Thirty years ago, when I was going through a particularly rough spot, he told me, “Keep the faith, and if it all goes to Hell, call your dad.” When he was 75, he said, “When I get old, I still want to feel good.”

    Yes, when people our age and younger die, it gives us pause. That’s true whether they’re friends and family, in our community, or people we hear about in the news. Likewise, when we hear about remarkable accomplishments of people in their late 90s and early 100s — we marvel, and we also hope that we’ll be as able should we reach that age.

    To my eyes, it doesn’t matter so much how many years we live but rather the quality of those years. As my dad said once when my corporate day job was particularly trying, “Don’t let them steal the joy from your day. They’re not paying you enough for that; they couldn’t pay you enough for that.”

    Daddy came home from WWII knowing there wasn’t any reason he made it back alive when he’d done many things more foolish than so many others he’d seen die there. He saw every day of his life after that as a gift, an attitude I believe gave him not only a steady awareness of the joy to be found in each day, but also many thousands more days than a different attitude and accompanying behavior would have brought him.

  71. Craig Ranapia:

    Would you give an example of what someone’s said in this thread that could come close to one of Limbaugh’s more hateful jags?

    I think you’re exaggerating a wee bit and it doesn’t help your argument.

  72. Ta-Nehisi Coates, as usual, knocks it out of the ballpark with this response

    When I heard that Andrew Brietbart had died, I was saddened. It is natural to think of the damage Breitbart did to people like Sherrod by embracing lying as a weapon. But I found myself thinking of the great injury he must have ultimately done himself, for by the end of the Sherrod affair, he was a man lying only to himself and other liars.

    By embracing that deception, by neglecting to research Sherrod before putting up a clip of her talking, by electing to see her as little more than a shiv against the hated liberals, he deprived himself of knowledge, of experience, of insight, of enlightenment. That he might learn something from Sherrod, that he might access some power from her life, and pass that on to loved ones and friends, never occurred to him. Publicly, he lived to make himself right–a tradition that is fully empowered in our politics. Breitbart didn’t invent the art of making yourself right. But he embraced it, and then advanced it.

    That is what took me to sadness. I have experienced curiosity as a primarily selfish endeavor. It originates in the understanding of the brevity of life, and the desire to see as much of it as possible, from as many angles as possible without doing too much damage to my morality. The opposite of that–incuriosity, dishonesty, the opportunistic deployment of information–is darkness. Breitbart died, like all of us will, in darkness. But as a media persona he chose to also live there, and in the process has impelled countless others to throttle themselves into the abyss.

    I have heard it said by some fellow liberals that Breitbart was in fact a good person, that his public persona was not the same as his private. This kind of praise is so broadly true of most controversial public figures as to be meaningless. And it is irrelevant. Breitbart may well have been an excellent father and a great friend but that is not why we are talking about him. We are noting his death because of the impact he had on our politics and our conversation. It must be said that that impact was for the worse. Any talk of his private life, is an attempt to change the subject and avoid discomfiting truths.

    It is wholly appropriate to be sorry that Andrew Breitbart died. But in the relevant business, it is right to be sorry for how he lived.


  73. At 43, he’s a smidgen younger than me, but my reaction to seeing a post on Yahoo news that included his picture was, “Wow, the dude looks waay older than 43! More like someone in his fifties.” My husband and a coworker had the same reaction. Anyway, a friend of ours passed away in his twenties due to asthma, which, at the time, I didn’t even know was potentially fatal. Having already been made all too aware of my mortality by his passing–which was a loss, unlike…–I viewed the announcement of Breitbart’s death with a shrug. No one lives forever.

  74. For a man who caused so much harm, and who acted in such an evil manner so consistently, I guess the most polite thing I can think of to say is “it is a shame he died before he could see the error of his ways.”

  75. Thank you to some of you for being class acts.

    My own practice is that I have nothing bad to say about someone between the time of their death and their funeral, and not a whole lot to say about them at all after that. The former is not out of respect for them, but out of respect for those close to them. The latter is because the dead can’t defend themselves, and only a coward beats a corpse.

  76. @ Tully… Not only do I appreciate what Scalzi wrote, but I appreciate your response as well.

    I drove to my friends’ wife’s funeral yesterday. I felt the earth move, watched the clouds race across the sky bringing both cool air and rain, felt the sun warm my face, and watched the cherry blooms fall like snow. I also saw people, unaware of my current state, moving as they always do, running their errands, chasing their children, lighting up their cigarettes as they dodged across the street. In each moment, regardless of how I did or did not feel about the deceased, I knew that this woman was special to me, and that while I stopped to grieve my own, personal loss, life just kept on moving.

    I don’t know much about Andrew Breitbart, and it seems there are very few middle ground commentaries being made about him. Another reason I appreciate this post. (Way to go J.S.!) Whether someone liked him or not, agreed with him or not, no longer matters. What matters is that this LIFE, which had the potential to continue being a “great” life–which could mean a positive or negative impact, depending on your stance– is no longer. And there are people who appreciated and now miss him.

    What I can say is that it seems there has been one hell of an impact on the world because of him.
    To be perfectly honest, I don’t know if that’s good or bad…but yes, the dude left way too soon.

  77. I’m not going to cry any crocodile tears pretending that the political and media world isn’t a better place without him in it. However I do have a great deal of sympathy and empathy for his family because they loved him and have lost him from their life. It must be even harder than normal dealing with the grief of an unexpected loss of a loved one when a significant part of the world is happy or at least relieved that they are gone rather than getting the typically universal support and condolences. For their sake rather than his, I think it is extremely unfortunate that he died while so (justifiably) reviled.

  78. Kevin Williams:

    Would you give an example of what someone’s said in this thread that could come close to one of Limbaugh’s more hateful jags?

    Was “folks elsewhere” genuinely too subtle? And, no, I’m not going to provide a long string of links to unpleasant swill that would just end up in the moderation queue and, I suspect, never get released. If you’re of a masochistic bent, they’re not hard to find.

  79. That was basically my initial reaction, too. I turned 43 last Saturday. I did see somewhere that he’d been treated for heart problems before. But still. 43 is too young.

  80. CR:

    My bad, I missed that part somehow. I’ll take your word for it – I’ve read comments on news sites myself. :(

  81. I consider it a genuine tragedy (in the original sense of the word) when someone dies without a chance to redeem themselves. I believe this to be true in Andrew Breitbart’s case. At the end of his life, he was deeply involved with dishonest and hurtful activities, and now, that’s all he gets to leave behind to the rest of the world.

    For those like me who opposed this man’s work, this is the worst possible time to gloat.

  82. A problem with the whole respecting-the-dead tradition is that it whitewashes much of the bad that some people do and cheapens much of the good that many people do.

    And I don’t pretend to know how Breitbart’s family “must have” felt about him. Is the post-humous gushing by the right comforting to them … or does it turn their stomachs? In any case, what *I* say about him out here in the middle of digital nowhere is almost certainly beyond their knowledge or care. So I pretend no respect when I feel none. And he’s even less likely to read or care what I have to say about him now than he was when he was alive, so what difference should his death make to me regarding whether I should express my opinion about him?

    A friend of mine has done me the honor of promising to talk about some of my bad — or at least less-than-pleasant — traits if she makes it to my memorial service. Anyone else at any memorial service for me won’t be offended — they’re much more likely to nod and grin a little. I take some comfort in that.

  83. Predictions of Breitbart’s death due to the forthcoming Obama videos started the day he announced them, they’re not something new.

  84. Given that there have been predictions of various people’s deaths due to forthcoming “proofs” of various kinds regarding Obama’s birth certificate / plottings with terrorists / real estate scams / etc / etc for several years now, it’s not exactly suspicious that one of them did end up dying. This is the sort of thing on which insurance companies are built. See also: statistics.

  85. @ Farley

    I’ll give him the same send off he tweeted about Ted Kennedy upon his death: AndrewBreitbart was a special pile of ……”

    Nothing like sinking to the level of your enemies to keep things classy.

    @ Theophylact

    By all accounts, Albert Einstein was a rotten husband and a miserable father.

    Knew him well then, did you?

    @ John & PrivateIron

    Re: Ms. Winehouse, you’re making the assumption I was taking a potshot, rather than being being darkly sardonic about what I felt was a stupid waste of a life.

    I remember thinking when Winehouse died crap, there goes one of the few popular artists whose work I actually appreciate. I know it can be a hanging offense in some corners of the internet, but I actually like her music, bourgeoisie philistine that I am. I don’t think the part of her life she lived was a total waste, but the part she never got to surely was – I choose to assume that’s what you meant, John.

  86. Story time: Back a little more than a decade ago, we had a family friend die. This particular family friend was a fairly major presence on Usenet, primarily in the science fiction fora. He was a man of strongly held opinions and no compunctions about sharing them, so he gathered an impressive troll list. The kind of list that would do things like send death threats and try to get him fired from his job. Over science fiction shows, mind you. Not even politics.

    I was recently out of college, with its attendant brokeness, and could not travel home for his funeral. So I turned to the next best thing and went on Usenet for the first time in my life. And for two days, I experienced total emotion devastation as the trolls ran rampant on every memorial thread that appeared. (Then I discovered the “Block User” option and it went much better.)

    Whenever I see someone unpopular die and the masses immediately start saying nasty things, I think of that experience. It’s very rare for someone to be entirely unloved, and what you say in public has a way of making it back to them. It’s beyond deeply unpleasant. It’s a way of making a loss feel even worse just when you need comfort the most.

    That’s my 2¢. Thanks for staying classy, Mr. Scalzi.

  87. John, Thank you, once again, for an example of acting as a human and a grown-up in the places where life is neither simple nor easy. I appreciate what you did and continue to work to build my own sensibility and therefore the ability to act with grace.

  88. @ B. Durbin: Presumably — trolls being trolls — most of what they wrote was dishonest. That makes a difference to me. Indeed, that was and is my major criticism of Andrew Breitbart: not his “tone” or whether he was talking about someone who happened to be dead, but that truth was irrelevant to him.

  89. I take no pleasure in anyone’s death; I’m not a ghoul. That doesn’t stop me from being unabashedly relieved that he can’t hurt anyone ever again. I felt the same way about Jerry Falwell, and I’ll feel the same way when Fred Phelps, Rush Limbaugh, and Ann Coulter, among others, begin the process of corporeal decomposition.

  90. many aspects of our sense of morality is hardware or wetware. our brains have circuits that detect their version of fairness (or a violation of fairness) and after the hardware circuit fires for fair or unfair, we often overlay some explanation on top of it. this doesnt neccessarily result in Moral behavior in any absolute sense rather it is the process that has a man kill someone in a fit of jealousy and afterwards say ‘the devil made me do it’. it is also the process that will have someone see a helpless child suffering and help them. there is something about this ‘speak no ill of the dead’ that has been rubbing me the wrong way since this thread started and has occurred for me when other folks of horrible intentions dies and the speak no ill of the dead rule gets invoked. … and I think it is one of those hardwired reactions we have that get an explanation layered on top of it. … and I think I finally realized why it has been bothering me so much: because ‘speak no ill of the dead’ i.flicts harm on the truth. I think perhaps the underlying hardwired reaction is reacting with empathy to the death and may also be reacting negatively to comments that might sound as if the person speaking is celebrating the person’s death, which crosses my hardwired limit of acceptable behavior. … But a lie by ommission is still a lie. I do not celebrate Breitbarts death, but to ‘speak no ill of the dead’ is to lie about who the man was and what he did with his life, and what he did to other peoples lives. … I think where I am struggling is my hardwired morality detector circuits are firing but I havent found the right explanation to my reaction that honors ‘never send for whom the bell tolls’ but also honors the truth as well. … Its like I have this gut level feeling but cant find the words but ‘speak no ill of the dead’ isnt it.

  91. Greg, paragraphs and good formatting in general are a courtesy to your readers. Without those things you’re basically unreadable.

  92. @ Greg

    The obit John linked to didn’t De mortuis nil nisi bonum (speak no ill of the dead) and even noted that honoring the Latin (original Greek) aphorism would be wrong. But David Frum acknowledged Breitbart’s assorted character traits without rubbing the dead man’s face in the mud. There is a sizable difference between letting friends and family grieve before singing Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead all over the media, and whitewashing the dead’s legacy.

    It’s all well and good to say people are merely rationalizing empathy, except that many, myself included, must fight our gut reaction to this news if we are to honor John’s call for civility. No matter how vile a person was, kicking a warm corpse says more about the kicker than the corpse, because whether we treat our pariahs, parasites and enemies with the same basic human dignity as we deem due heroes, friends and allies reflects on what kind of society we seek to be and become.

    * see reactions to Osama Bin Laden’s welcome demise

  93. In this case, I find that nil nisi bonum wars with sic semper.

    Condolences to those who loved him, I suppose.

  94. Gulliver: The obit John linked to didn’t De mortuis nil nisi bonum

    It isn’t ‘speak no ill of the dead’, but that reports only what it is not, and says nothing about what it is. And whatever it is has no power if it has no words to put to it. The words are the handle by which we can channel the emotional reaction, the hardwired reaction of the brain. Without that handle, it finds whatever explanation closest fits. And right now, “speak no ill of the dead” is the closest thing that fits this situation, which then channels how the emotional reaction gets tempered.

    There is a sizable difference between ….

    And neither of your options describes what I am trying to find words for. I don’t think there is a cultural maxim for it.

    Xopher: I find that nil nisi bonum wars with sic semper.

    Maybe the problem is that emotionally speaking, we reduce ourselves to mute or murder, for or against, and that is why there is no maxim in between. It’s a rather depressing thought though….

  95. Greg — “It is in how you honor a fallen foe your own character is revealed.” — don’t remember.

  96. htom, there’s a difference between an honorable foe and a lying sack of shit. Speaking in general, of course.

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