Ask raconteur Malachy McCourt how he is, and he responds simply, “I’m staying above ground.” And at the age of 85, he feels this is an accomplishment of some merit.
“I am very much aware of my own demise, which could come at any moment." he adds. "My doctor says if I don’t drink, don’t smoke, if I eat properly, take care of myself, I really should live until midnight.”
The Irish-American actor, bestselling author, and winner of the Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award once toured with his late brother, Frank (Angela’s Ashes), in the two-man show, A Couple of Blaguards. An unrepentant storyteller, he is back with a book on what is clearly on his mind these days, Death Need Not Be Fatal (with Brian McDonald; Center Street).
“Like yourself, I am a member of a species that has a 100% mortality rate,” he begins, and then takes the reader on a poignant meditation on his encounters and unavoidable relationship with the Grim Reaper.
In comparing the Irish and American ways of death, he notes that the former dies and the latter seems to do everything but die.
“People here pass on, pass away, they are no longer with us, reposing, at peace, gone home, in the arms of the Lord, with the angels in heaven tonight. And everyone sits on the right hand of God. You sit there, gazing at his right earlobe, and is that happiness?” he asks. He adds that American funeral workers will do anything but say the word dead. “It’s always ‘in your hour of need.’ If I went up to a mortician and said, ‘Could you lend me $100, it’s my hour of need,’ he would not give it to me. Because what they think of need is dead, but I don’t need it when I’m dead!”
The Irish, in comparison, he says, mourn the marriage, but celebrate the death. As an example, he talks about the death of his mother, Angela. Frank and he were broke at the time, but their brother Alfie had a Mexican restaurant called Los Panchos, and they put her in the coffin there.
“We sang a bunch of songs we knew that she disliked thoroughly because if there were some life in her, she’d get up and smite us. Then we sang all the songs she did like. People were coming in and we were dancing away like we were dancing at Lughnasa. That was the best wake that I can recall,” McCourt says.
As McCourt writes in his book, “Some say the Irish hold wakes to reassure themselves that they are still alive.” So far, the last of the seven siblings is—at least until midnight.
Thursday, June 1, from 4:30–6 p.m., at the PW BookExpo Librarians’ Lounge (Booth 875).