Q&A with the obituary editor

Jon Thurber, the LAT's obits editor, gets some ink on Claire Hoffman's religion blog for Newsweek and the Washington Post.

To me, one of the most desirable jobs in newspapers has always been in the obituary department. Blame it on my taste for the epic, but it seems like the act and art of summarizing great lives would put you a little closer to a sense of what all this quotidian nonsense of life adds up to. (I would put astronomers and entomologists in the same category). So I thought Jon Thurber, the obituary editor from the Los Angeles Times for over a decade, would be the perfect person for Under God to talk to about life and death and how it all works.

While I was at the LA Times, one of the people I probably disappointed the most was Jon. I had been covering a certain octagenarian TV producer accused of sexually harassing his home nurse, and Jon asked me to put a few facts together on the man, given his age. Then Jon asked again. And again. But I kept writing dailies and thinking if the guy had lived this long, he would surely live a few more weeks.

Of course, one evening I left the paper and went for a massage. A blissful hour later, I emerged to my cell phone on fire with weary messages from Jon. The producer had died. That put the fear in me and I got to work on an obituary of a certain female Hollywood titan that was alive and well but who Jon thought maybe should have a file going. I called the woman and told her flat out what I was up to. She told me to go to hell. A few weeks later, I quit.

Anyway, here's Jon.

The Times has about 400 advance obits in the can right now, he says. And he's gotten a bit superstitious since the deaths of Katharine Hepburn and Ted Williams.

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