David Rakoff—writer, aesthete, genius, New York devotee (the City was “the great love of my life,” he wrote), exceptional reporter and observer, performer, director and incredibly kind person—died after a phenomenally unfair and incredibly prolonged series of medical travails, which rarely slowed his creative output or his deeply human black humor. In early 2009, a pinched nerve was discovered to be a malignant sarcoma, caused, he said, by the radiation treatments from the lymphoma he’d had two decades before. An incredibly complicated and ethical person, Rakoff channeled his anxieties both into crafts, making elaborate products in his incredibly organized home such as duct tape wallets, but also into a phenomenal amount of writing.
The work he leaves behind—both recorded and in the collections Fraud, from 2001, Don’t Get Too Comfortable, from 2005, Half Empty, from 2010—are all ahead-of-their-time documentations of the way we actually do live now. There was no better correspondent from New York City of his time.
In a short piece from 16 months ago, he wrote understatedly and generously about his illness and treatment and doctors. This quiet bit, for instance, would be rendered in histrionics by any other writer. Instead, it communicated the empathy that was at the heart of his entire body of work.