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Molly Ivins, political humorist and syndicated columnist, dies at age 62

Los Angeles Times

Molly Ivins, the irrepressibly irreverent political humorist and syndicated columnist who skewered legislators, governors and presidents, especially those from her beloved Texas, died Wednesday at her home in Austin after a long battle with cancer. She was 62.

Miss Ivins was diagnosed in 1999 with a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer. After two recurrences, she became ill again last year as the disease spread. Her death was announced by The Texas Observer, where she began her career as a political commentator 30 years ago.

More than 400 newspapers, including The Seattle Times, subscribed to her nationally syndicated column.

In her last weeks, she devoted her waning energy to what she called "an old-fashioned newspaper campaign" against President Bush's plan to escalate the Iraq war. "We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders," she wrote in her last column two weeks ago. "And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war."

Late Wednesday, Bush said, "Molly Ivins was a Texas original. I respected her convictions, her passionate belief in the power of words and her ability to turn a phrase. She fought her illness with that same passion."

At a tribute dinner in October that raised $400,000 for The Observer, Miss Ivins drew a standing ovation when Lewis Lapham, editor emeritus of Harper's Magazine, said: "She reminds us that dissent is what rescues democracy from a quiet death behind closed doors."

Miss Ivins established herself as a font of liberal outrage and hilarity during the 1970s, when she was an editor and writer at The Observer. She went on to write for a wide range of publications, including The New York Times, The Nation, The Atlantic, Esquire, Readers Digest, the Dallas Times-Herald and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

She also was the best-selling author of several books, including "Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?" (1991) and two sassily titled volumes on President George W. Bush, co-written with Lou Dubose: "Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush" (2000) and "Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush's America" (2003).

Some of her pieces were deeply reflective or affectionate, such as her essays about Ann Richards, the former Texas governor who died in 2006, or Barbara Jordan, the late black congresswoman remembered for her eloquence during the Nixon impeachment debates.

She was best-known, however, for her mastery of what one critic called the "well-informed potshot," which she generally reserved for conservative figures such as Bush (aside from "Shrub" and "Dubya," she called him "President Billy Bob Forehead"), Arnold Schwarzenegger ("a condom filled with walnuts") and talk-show host Rush Limbaugh (whose bite was "akin to being gummed by a newt ... it leaves you with slimy stuff on your ankle").

Liberals did not escape her arrows, either. Writing at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Miss Ivins described President Clinton as "weaker than bus-station chili."

Her favorite target, however, was the Texas Legislature, which she referred to as "the Lege" (pronounced ledge). Describing knock-down-drag-out brawls, flagrant bias and absurd laws, she wrote of its shortcomings with gusto and horror, declaring it "the finest free entertainment in Texas. Better than the zoo. Better than the circus."

She described herself as "a left-wing, aging Bohemian journalist, who never made a shrewd career move, never dressed for success, never got married and isn't even a lesbian, which at least would be interesting."

Miss Ivins was almost a native Texan: Born in Monterey, Calif., she moved to Houston before she was 1. Her father, James, was a corporate lawyer and conservative Republican. Her mother, Margaret, was a Smith College psychology graduate and self-described liberal Republican. She was, according to Miss Ivins, "as shrewd as she was ditzy ... a combination of Sigmund Freud and Gracie Allen."

She had two siblings, Andy and Sara, who survive her along with nieces and nephews.

Like her mother, Miss Ivins became a voracious reader, a passion that set her apart from her peers as surely as did another trait: her height. "I grew up a St. Bernard among greyhounds. It's hard to be cute if you're 6 feet tall," she wrote in "Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?"

She followed her mother's footsteps to Smith, where she earned a bachelor's degree in history in 1965. She obtained a master's in journalism from Columbia University in 1967 and studied for a year in Paris at the Institute for Political Science.

In 1995, writer Florence King said Ivins plagiarized her in one of the essays in "Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?" Miss Ivins acknowledged that she had goofed in omitting the attribution for some lines and apologized.

She sometimes wrote about her battle with inflammatory breast cancer, an uncommon form of the disease known to progress rapidly.

Miss Ivins called it "massive amounts of no fun" but was unsentimental about its many indignities, which included a radical mastectomy and failed breast reconstruction. She called herself "a happy, flat-chested woman" and insisted that being forced to confront mortality had not improved her character.

In 2001 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, along with King Juan Carlos of Spain, fashion photographer Richard Avedon and former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company


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