Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Dudley Clendinen Aug. 17, 1944 -- May 30, 2012 Southern Journalist and Author

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Dudley Clendinen Aug. 17, 1944 -- May 30, 2012 Southern Journalist and Author

Article excerpt

Dudley Clendinen, a courtly Southern journalist and author who wrote lyrically about civil rights, aging in America, the poignancy of ordinary lives and his own approaching death as a gay alcoholic victim of Lou Gehrig's disease, died Wednesday in a hospice in Baltimore. He was 67.

His death was confirmed by his daughter, Whitney Clendinen.

Mr. Clendinen covered politics, the New South, health care and the great kaleidoscope of topics that fall to a versatile journalist. He was a reporter for The St. Petersburg Times in Florida, a national correspondent and editorial writer for The New York Times and a senior editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Baltimore Sun.

In his journalism he explored homelessness, crowded prisons, an abortion doctor's conscience and other tales of conflict and courage. And he wrote of gay life in America -- the wretchedness of discrimination and the struggles for acceptance in religion, workplaces and professions.

Eventually the story became that of his own troubled life: the risks of publicly acknowledging his own homosexuality, the miseries of alcoholism and divorce and the loss of friends to AIDS in the 1980s and '90s.

"Men -- lovers, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, the faces you were accustomed to seeing at parties, bars, in symphony orchestras, in dance companies and behind the counters of familiar stores -- would vanish, often with terrifying speed," he wrote in an essay in The New York Times in 2003. "You'd have dinner with a friend, or go to bed with someone you'd met, and next you knew, they were dead."

More recently his mission became a search for meaning, even joy, in his final years stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the progressive neuromuscular affliction commonly called Lou Gehrig's disease, after the great New York Yankees hitter.

Since November 2010, when he learned of his condition and was told he had 18 to 36 months left, he had discussed the end of his life in writing, lectures and radio and television appearances despite failing muscles, shortness of breath and slurred speech. He called his disease "Lou," like an old friend.

With his condition deteriorating, he wrote an essay in The New York Times Sunday Review on July 10, 2011, announcing his intention to commit suicide before becoming a "mute, withered, incontinent mummy of my former self." His daughter, however, said he had died as a result of the disease and not by his own hand, and had been deeply involved in writing a book about his life and illness. In the essay, Mr. Clendinen challenged Americans to open a dialogue on dying.

"We obsess in this country about how to eat and dress and drink, about finding a job and a mate," he wrote. "About having sex and children. About how to live. But we don't talk about how to die. We act as if facing death weren't one of life's greatest, most absorbing thrills and challenges. …

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