July 26, 2008
‘Last Lecture’ Author Dies
By Sonja Sharp
Randy Pausch, the computer scientist whose "last lecture" about facing terminal cancer became an Internet sensation and a best- selling book, died Friday. He was 47.
But Pausch's message was mostly one of hope. Even while dying, he encouraged people to embrace their lives and enjoy the time that they have.
In the two years since he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the Carnegie Mellon University professor became the public face of the illness and developed an affiliation with the El Segundo-based Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, the only such advocacy group in the country.
"I think his message really was that every day matters, and that people should live their life like that," said Julie Fleshman, president and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. "I think that we will continue to carry that message on for him."
Testifying on behalf of the network in March before a congressional subcommittee, Pausch reiterated the urgent need to increase federal funding for pancreatic cancer research.
He also spoke on behalf of the organization in a public service announcement.
"Our organization is eternally grateful for his advocacy efforts and we will continue to carry his message forward as we fight this terrible disease," Fleshman said.
Pausch died at his home in Chesapeake, Va., said Jeffrey Zaslow, a Wall Street Journal writer who co-wrote Pausch's book. Pausch and his family had moved there last fall to be closer to his wife's relatives.
The book, "The Last Lecture," leaped to the top of the nonfiction best-seller lists after its publication in April and remains there this week. The book deal was reported to be worth more than $6 million.
Pausch said he dictated the book to Zaslow by cell phone, and Zaslow recalled Friday that he was "strong and funny" during their collaboration.
"I've read thousands of e-mails from people who said he changed their lives," said Zaslow, who estimated he received 30 e-mails a minute on Friday. "I met a lot of people at book signings that were terminally ill themselves, but there was just something about Randy."
Zaslow last saw Pausch at the Carnegie Mellon commencement, where he was the keynote speaker. They exchanged their final e-mail last week.
"It was hard for him. There were moments that he was depressed. He was in pain and he was weak, but he wanted to spend all the time with his kids, and he did that," Zaslow said.
The speech last fall was part of a series Carnegie Mellon called "The Last Lecture," where professors were asked to think about what matters to them most and give a hypothetical final talk.
He told the packed auditorium he fulfilled almost all his childhood dreams - being in zero gravity, writing an article in the World Book Encyclopedia and working with the Walt Disney Co.
Millions viewed the complete or abridged version of the lecture, titled "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," online.
"I don't know how to not have fun," he said in the lecture. "I'm dying and I'm having fun. And I'm going to keep having fun every day I have left. Because there's no other way to play it."
For the PCAN, Pausch's personal optimism became a beacon for patients and families living with the disease, Fleshman said.
"He created a tremendous amount of awareness," he said. "For the very first time the country was really aware of pancreatic cancer."
About 37,000 Americans are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer every year. Of those, 75 percent die within the first year, making it the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in America.
Pausch blogged regularly about his medical treatment. On Feb. 15, exactly six months after he was told he had three to six months of healthy living left, Pausch posted a photo of himself to show he was "still alive & healthy."
"Randy Pausch is the first person who came forward about pancreatic cancer, and he really helped us move the needle on this issue," Fleshman said. "I think it's a pretty awesome legacy to leave behind."
Born in 1960, Pausch received his bachelor's degree in computer science from Brown University and his doctorate from Carnegie Mellon.
He co-founded Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center, a master's program for bringing artists and engineers together. The university named a footbridge in his honor. He also created an animation-based teaching program for high school and college students to have fun while learning computer programming.
In February, the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences in California announced the creation of the Dr. Randy Pausch Scholarship Fund for university students who pursue careers in game design, development and production.
He is survived by his wife, Jai; their three children, Dylan, Logan and Chloe; his mother, Virginia Pausch of Maryland; and a sister, Tamara Mason of Lynchburg, Va.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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