Clive James may never see home
June 21, 2012 12:55 PM   Subscribe

Author and broadcaster Clive James is facing terminal leukemia. James, who has lived in London for 50-years but kept his Australian passport smoked 80 cigarettes a day and was a hard drinker before giving up both.
posted by parmanparman (41 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The details of this are being denied on Twitter, e.g. this message which Graham Linehan retweeted.
posted by w0mbat at 1:08 PM on June 21, 2012

Damn... cut and pasted the wrong bit...

Clive James's spokeswoman has released a statement saying his BBC interview 'sounded much less doom-laden than it does when transcribed'
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:13 PM on June 21, 2012

80 cigarettes is one every 5 minutes for 16 hours.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:15 PM on June 21, 2012

As far as I know, alcohol in any quantity is not considered a significant risk factor for leukemia. Cigarettes (probably via the benzene in them) are modestly associated with leukemia, but 80 a day would usually mean emphysema/COPD will get you before leukemia.
posted by spitbull at 1:16 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I remember watching Clive James on tv in the 80's when growing up in the UK. He, Dame Edna and Rolf Harris were the triumvirate who made up my childhood impressions of what Australia was about. I wish him well, always seemed like a decent chap.
posted by arcticseal at 1:20 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

And after RingTFA, I see James has serious COPD.

Remember, though, we all have to die from something, and making it to 72 after a rich life beats (for me) living to 95 as a dweeb.
posted by spitbull at 1:21 PM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

Cigarette smoking has been established as a risk factor for acute myelogenous leukemia, but alcohol isn't demonstrated to be a risk factor in any form of leukemia to date, so I don't quite follow your framing.

If Clive James had never written anything other than "The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered," I would admire him for that alone. I wish him all the best in living with his illness.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:22 PM on June 21, 2012

When anyone I know gets any manner of cancer, inevitably someone will soon ask, "Did they smoke?" Always with this bizarrely smug, slow nod, like they know, KNOW, that this is what did it. They are safe eating their pop-tarts and hamburgers, laying out in the sun, its ok. They don't smoke.

(He's 72 and ill, it isn't unusual and it isn't confined to smokers, I just don't think its fair to reduce a full and long life to a throwaway regarding a former bad habit.)
posted by stormygrey at 1:23 PM on June 21, 2012 [11 favorites]

I liked this little article: Smoking, my lost love
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:24 PM on June 21, 2012

Wait, my math is bad. 80 cigarettes is one every 12 minutes for 16 hours.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:25 PM on June 21, 2012

Along people like Harvey Pekar, Clive James is one of the people on my list of would-be-really-nice-to-meet sometime.

Harvey Pekar's death is a stinging rebuke, because after marrying, I have a set of inlaws in Ohio who provide me with no end of reasons to visit Cleveland, and I didn't take them up on it until after Pekar passed away.

London, is a bit beyond my reach though. Wish you all the best, Mr. James. Moving pirated Youtube clips of you to the front of my queue now.
posted by ocschwar at 1:27 PM on June 21, 2012

80 cigarettes is one every 5 minutes for 16 hours.
Is that even physically possible? I am not a smoker, but I have to ask you that do smoke cigarettes - what kind of pace is that? Is that normal or slow or the equivalent of wolfing it down like you were in a fast smoking contest?
posted by pointystick at 1:31 PM on June 21, 2012

On preview, Pruitt-Igoe, that sounds like a more sedate space but still. Wow.
posted by pointystick at 1:32 PM on June 21, 2012

Clive james isn asn Amazing Person.

viz I wish I'd never met her and many many many more writings.
posted by lalochezia at 1:33 PM on June 21, 2012

80 cigarettes is one every 5 minutes for 16 hours.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 9:15 PM on June 21

Please re-take your junior maths examination.
posted by Decani at 1:34 PM on June 21, 2012

They corrected the math a few comments down... BUT STILL.
posted by Theta States at 1:36 PM on June 21, 2012

I'm not well acquainted with Mr. James outside of his excellent book "Cultural Amnesia," which is a very odd duck. It combines fascinating bios of a scattered group of important people with a fixed lens that occasionally became comical. He wrote pieces about many half-forgotten people of the mid-twentieth century, though almost always with at least some time spent on the subjects' attitudes and actions towards two great evils of the century: Hitler and Stalin.

That's well and good, and often illuminating, but it almost never stopped. It got to be kind of a dickish game for me. "An essay on Beatrix Potter? Lovely! Let's see how many pages he writes before Stalin comes up?" (Four or five, I forget, but come up he did.) Louis Armstrong? I think Hitler comes up in his essay too.

Still and all, "Cultural Amnesia" is a damn fine book. Even if you play the "Guess How the Totalitarian Will Fit Into This Essay" game as you read. ("Oooh, Dick Cavett! FIND THE HITLER!") James introduced me to a whole lot of brilliant writers I knew nothing about, and for that I owe him a debt.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 1:48 PM on June 21, 2012

All 60 of Clive James' A Point of View talks from Radio 4 now available free on the BBC website. Highly recommended: .
posted by Paul Slade at 1:55 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

I smoke.
posted by parmanparman at 2:03 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Is that even physically possible? I am not a smoker, but I have to ask you that do smoke cigarettes - what kind of pace is that?

80 a day = almost chain smoking (ie pretty much one after the other without a break)

When I was a smoker I was a bit of chimney but the most I ever smoked was about 30 a day (ie about one every half hour), 20 on a work day. I did know someone who smoked 100 a day (that is proper chain smoking) but they did not inhale.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:14 PM on June 21, 2012

but they did not inhale.

Should add if you don't inhale and just puff away you can smoke a cig much quicker
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:15 PM on June 21, 2012

Clive James is a genius. Can everyone stop talking about smoking?
posted by merocet at 2:21 PM on June 21, 2012 [9 favorites]

I'm not well acquainted with Mr. James outside of his excellent book "Cultural Amnesia," which is a very odd duck.

When I was a lad I essentially memorised the three books of his 70's TV criticism. It's brilliant and hilarious and was quite unlike anything else you could read at the time - New Games Journalism is the nearest comparison.

But his fetish for totalitarian comparisons was present then too. As was his burning desire to be respected as a Deep and Serious Thinker. Cultural Amnesia was his final shot at it, and it was a (very successful) failure. (IMO)
posted by Sebmojo at 2:26 PM on June 21, 2012

Clive James introduced me to Japenese Endurance game shows some critical thinking and an amusing autobiography. Him and Gremaine Greer were my introduction to "down under". I still haven't been there. I hope they give you heaps of morphine mate.
posted by adamvasco at 2:51 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

the three books of his 70's TV criticism

Those books are absolutely delightful even if you've never seen half of the shows he's talking about. My favorite line in them isn't his; it's from an announcer at a Wimbledon tournament, saying that "[Bjorn] Borg is one of those players with a little bit extra to pull out, and he's pulling it out now".

What really does it for me, though, is his series of autobiography, starting with "Unreliable Memoirs", and continuing through "Falling Toward England", "May Week Was In June", "North Face of Soho", and more. These screamingly funny books are as good as any comic writing ever done, and the fact that they're more or less true just makes them funnier.

He's also a good novelist, passable poet, literary critic, and pretty decent folk-music (or art song, really) lyricist with Pete Atkin.

You're right about "Cultural Amnesia", though; he's trying too hard. But England should be proud to have had him all this time; he's one of the great men of letters of the 20th century. I think of him as primarily a Great Newspaperman, a thing that used to exist but doesn't anymore, and we're all poorer for it.
posted by Fnarf at 2:56 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Him and Gremaine Greer were my introduction to "down under"

The splendid Clive James might be an excellent incentive to visit Australia. Unfortunately Germain Greer would be an equally strong reason to leave. Quickly. I mean like fucking now.
posted by gallus at 3:07 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Australia's a great place to visit, but I wouldn't think Clive James would be a reason why. As is pointed out above, he hasn't lived there for fifty years. And you're not too likely to run across Germaine Greer or Dame Edna, either. Do visit Tasmania, though; it's lovely (and go see the Devils, at one of the reserves, they're amazing, and may not be around much longer).
posted by Fnarf at 3:22 PM on June 21, 2012

As philosopher Richard Klein famously put it, "Cigarettes are bad for you. That's why they're so good."

I find pre-obituary threads very awkward. I do not wish to write a pre-emptive encomium to a revered elder.
posted by spitbull at 4:05 PM on June 21, 2012

And also who gives a fuck why he has leukemia? I too find the framing of this rather unsettlingly disrespectful.
posted by spitbull at 4:06 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Really sorry to hear about this. I have to confess I got a bit tired of Clive James TV persona in "funny TV from around the world" mode but as others have mentioned his books of TV criticism from the 70s are absolutely brilliant reads and I still dig them out occasionally.
posted by pascal at 4:14 PM on June 21, 2012

He was my introduction to so much comedy in the '80s. I used to spent Saturday nights with his show, at around the same time I was enjoying The Young Ones. But I could tell his satire was different. And he opened my eyes to stuff like bizarre videos from around the world with his laconic take on them and strange Japanese game shows....

I've read a scattering of this books over the years, but didn't take time to see him when he toured last.

[I didn't even know he smoked. His voice, at least until the last time I can recall hearing it, was velvety smooth. He didn't have that rasp at all. That's neither here nor there.]
posted by Mezentian at 4:15 PM on June 21, 2012

I don't know if it was Clive James who gave me my love of Formula One or the other way round but his series of highlight films for the mid-eighties seasons (eg 1984) were really much more entertaining than some of the races they describe. Until later much later when I was old enough to stay up late and watch the races themselves, it was Clive James and not Murray Walker, who was "the voice of f1" to me. I think he is a genius. Regardless of the subject matter (dodgy TV, travelogues, fame) I never tire of his word play and dry delivery style. I guess human frailty catches up with everyone in the end, but it's no less sad for the inevitability of it.
posted by adamt at 4:52 PM on June 21, 2012

As with a few people above - mid 80s and onwards, his imported UK shows were a staple of the ABC lineup here in Australia on a Saturday night.

Always sharp and entertaining, genuinely funny and extremely knowledgable. As a child at the time I only understoood about 2/3rds of what he was going on about, but that was enough for me to enjoy it.
posted by chris88 at 5:08 PM on June 21, 2012

When I was a technician I worked with him once, about 10 years ago now. A thoroughly nice man, very easy to work with and pretty well the same whether he is in front of an audience or not.

I wish him well.
posted by deadwax at 5:35 PM on June 21, 2012

We need to get up a collection to send him a ride on the Manly ferry.
posted by Kaleidoscope at 6:35 PM on June 21, 2012

A "child of the proletarian left", he remains a man of social democracy, but James's precise credo has been hard to pigeonhole. An atheist (religions are "advertising agencies for a product that doesn't exist"), he has poured scorn on privatisation, especially whenever it threatens the BBC, expressed scepticism about climate change and supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

One Christopher Hitchens is more than enough thanks.

The problem was not the brief Iraq war, but "the Iraq peace" that followed, he said.

That's just flippant.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 7:04 PM on June 21, 2012

>(and go see the Devils, at one of the reserves, they're amazing, and may not be around much longer).

They're keeping a seed population alive on a tiny(er) island, just in case!
posted by panaceanot at 12:07 AM on June 22, 2012

a tiny(er) island

Tasmania itself isn't a tiny island. It's roughly the same area as the Republic of Ireland or West Virginia. Half as big again as Switzerland or the Netherlands.

As for Clive James, I hope he does have years left, as his spokesman claims; I'd hate to think that he'll run out of time to finish Unreliable Memoirs Volume Six. It may seem excessive that he's already written two volumes more of autobiography than Churchill, but if anything the later volumes feel too abbreviated, with too much left out. What a life.
posted by rory at 2:32 AM on June 22, 2012

James is a superb writer. He has that wodehouse quality of making you stop at marvel at the writing, without taking you out of the writing itself.

This thread needs more links to some of his excellent journalism. He spans everything from book review evisceration like this to reviews of Beyonce and Mad Men (that last from his site, which is a treasure trove).
posted by fightorflight at 2:47 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

James is a genius.

Here's the first line of a review of Evelyn Waugh's work :

"Evelyn Waugh was the best writer of English prose since the First World War, even though all the wrong people thought so."

Isn't that perfect ?

He did loads of thick-headed 80's tv, to make money I suppose, but his writing will live on.
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 3:24 AM on June 22, 2012

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