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12/21/2010

Year-end obituary review by writers from the Washington Post and the Economist magazine

December 21, 2010 | 10:13 am

Charlie Another December day, another look back at news obituaries in 2010. Today we have a radio segment that aired Monday on WAMU-FM, American University's public radio station in Washington. Host Kojo Nnamdi, whose show aims to "connect your neighborhood with the world," interviewed Washington Post obit writer Matt Schudel and Economist obituaries editor Ann Wroe about stories that stood out for them in the last year.

Schudel starts off by discussing former pro basketball star Manute Bol and his ties to the Sudan, and then explains how all obit writers approach their assignments:

We're looking for the things that really make someone human. It's not just that we want to record the big events in a person's life, whether the person was a movie star, appeared in movies or on television or in case of a congressman, passed a bunch of laws. We're looking for the things that kind of set a person apart, that show both the extraordinary qualities and sometimes the foibles and the problematic character issues that you might say can sometimes lead to the downfall of a significant figure.

Ann Wroe had a memorable account of the life of Texas Rep. Charlie Wilson, a colorful character who died in February. She reads from the Wilson obituary she wrote:

He was Texas loud, 6'7" in his cowboy boots with bright suspenders, a rowdy laugh and a rugged western face. Other people in Washington might go around looking like constipated hound dogs, but he was having fun and sharing it. Partying and junketing first class all over the country on the federal dime. The apogee came in 1980 in a hot tub at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas with two strippers, naked but for their high-heeled shoes, each equipped with 10 red fingernails filled with beautiful white powder which they wafted onto his nose.

The Feds later spent a million bucks investigating whether he had inhaled it. He wasn't telling. He reviewed, however, that he wore a robe, at first, because he was, after all, a congressman.

Here's the story the Times ran on Wilson by reporter James Oliphant.

You can listen to the entire program at the WAMU website or read a transcript. The Post has more at its obit blog, Post Mortem.

 And here is the Times' picture gallery of notable figures who died in 2010.

-- Claire Noland

Photo: Charlie Wilson in 1988. Credit: Associated Press

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