Top Most Scathing Obituaries of All Time

At some point in between drinking beer, whiskey, and White Russians (pace Aaron, pace) with Sodblog’s Admin istrator this last Friday, I scribbled down some notes on a napkin while bellied up to the Peacock Alley Bar & Grill, Patterson Hotel, in what is downtown Bismarck, North Dakota. In an attempts to decipher them, this afternoon I hunkered down in the corner of a Starbuck’s, black coffee next to the un-crumpled napkin and note pad, and set to work.

The phrase “Top Most Scathing Obituaries of All Time” is clearly most pertinent in these National Debating Days of ours. Objectivity and Subjectivity are words thrown about today, but what is more alluring about the Top Most Scathing Obituaries of All Time is the way in which the authors used the power of words and metaphors. As Hunter Thompson once said of Patrick Buchanan, “I have, from the very beginning, admired Pat Buchanan, who’s not even a writer. He knows how to use words.”

On with the list: so far, the list for the Top Most Scathing Obituaries of All Time starts, in chronological order, with the obituary H.L. Mencken wrote for William Jennings Bryan, not long after the conclusion of the Scopes Monkey Trial, one of the great early-20th Century legal cases pitting Darwin’s Evolution against Biblical Literalists. Mencken, a journalist who has accurately been referred to as the Baltimore Sage, and the American Voltaire, leveled his pen against the Evangelical William Jennings Bryan, and drafted what Hunter Thompson called, “the most savage and unnatural thing ever said on the death of a famous or any other person.” And for this reason, Hunter would hire Mencken.

Mencken was not to be outdone, however, when Hunter Thompson was brought to a furious rage after seeing the televised Richard Nixon funeral from his Woody Creek Home. In a 1997 Atlantic Monthly interview, Thompson said,

“It was such a maudlin, truthless affair. I was thinking about going, but I wouldn’t have seen the clarity of it as I did watching it on TV here. It was such a classically — you’re talking about your objective journalism? — it was one of those things … speak no evil of the dead. Well, why not? What the fuck? Nixon goes out as a champion of the American dream and a hero. It enraged me. So it was the rage that tapped the vein.”

As for the Top Most Scathing [and Most Recent] Obituaries of All Time, the essay Christopher Hitchens wrote of the late Reverend Falwell is the most pointed and laser-focused. Hitchens opened his essay (entitled, “Faith-Based Fraud) with the following sentence: “The discovery of the carcass of Jerry Falwell on the floor of an obscure office in Virginia has almost zero significance, except perhaps for two categories of the species labeled ‘credulous idiot.'” Here, Hitchens employed the technique of ascribing mammalian characteristics to the Right Reverend Falwell with the use of the word “carcass.” Whether one agrees or disagrees with Hitchens, this first sentence demands that the reader to continue.

With that said, below are links to three of the Top Most Scathing Obituaries of All Time. Please feel free to submit others if they come to mind.

1) “William Jennings Bryan” by H.L. Mencken

2) “The Death of Richard Nixon” by Hunter S. Thompson

3) “Faith-Based Fraud” by Christopher Hitchens

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