The Making of Fatal Death

After all the bad weather, bad luck, and bad food, there was only one thing left for the publishers and producers of the next big adventure blockbuster to do: Kill the writer.

David Rakoff

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April 17, 2000
Dear Bud:
I‘m sorry you had to read about the sale of the magazine in the trades, especially so close to your Annapurna trip. I had a feeling that it would precipitate precisely the kind of message you left on my voice mail. Bud, DON’T WORRY! The OneWorldTech brass want nothing more than for us to continue to be the best damned monthly for meteorological journalism around. As for changing the magazine’s name from Cirrus to Thunderhead, that was as much my idea as theirs. And it’s a good one, I think. I hope you will agree; there’s no moral virtue in being moribund, Bud, and that’s what we were. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been sold in the first place. Our editorial autonomy will not be broached. I can personally vouch for the fact that OneWorldTech values our integrity; I have the stock options to prove it.

Oh, it’s ironic, to be sure, but that’s all it is, Bud—ironic, not a tragedy. We will have less than nothing to do with either the munitions or the poultry-processing arms of the corporation. But now we’ll be able to harness OWT’s tremendous synergistic power and reach as big an audience as possible. You want a book deal, you want to reach one billion Chinese television viewers, you want to be on Charlie Rose? (For Pete’s sake, I can get Charlie Rose to come and clean my house!) All of this is as good as done now that we’ve joined the OWT family. How does the possibility of a movie tie-in or a Broadway musical adaptation sound to you, Bud? I thought so…

Love to Susan and the girls,

P.S. On the subject of distressing reactions, I’m still doing damage control in the wake of Irene’s hysterical group e-mail. Irene was a wonderful assistant, but frankly, her characterizing an early retirement—with a sizable package, I might add—as “being taken out to the woodpile by Big Brother” is an insult to the legions who have been downsized by OneWorldTech without so much as a fare-thee-well. Anyway, the voice you’ll hear when you call is Sean, my new assistant, sent from the Head Office to ease the transition.


April 27, 2000

I got the satellite thingy today. It’s amazing to think that I’ll be able to write to you from 23,000 feet. The Luddite in me is a little worried that daily e-mail dispatches to the new Web site might dilute the final story, but it’s a cunning little machine, I won’t lie. This seduction-by-hardware is a little embarrassing in light of my previous jokes about “ScumWorldTech.” Although I’m still a little confused about the Broadway adaptation of a 3,500-word article on cloud formations and ozone depletion in the Himalayas. But what do I know, right? I haven’t seen a play since they did Godspell at my church in 1974, and that source material sure didn’t scream musical, I guess.

I’ll check in from Kathmandu.


May 12, 2000
Dear Bud:

I’ll keep it short as I’m on my way out the door to Gstaad of all places for a ten-day company retreat. I’ve been summoned by the elder Mr. Simon himself. (Yikes! Have you ever seen him? He’s a little raisin of a man—four feet tall, I’d say—with an Amazon for a wife who’s younger than the chicken stock in my freezer. Apparently he never travels anywhere without a transplant-ready human kidney on ice. Whose, I wonder? But now I’m telling tales out of school.)

Sean tells me you’re upset with our Web site teaser. I don’t see how our little tribute to you could be read as tantamount to “faking your death.” The grave shown is clearly unmarked and the photo is uncaptioned. Are we to have our readers believe that no one has ever died on Annapurna? I think you’re being way too hard on yourself. You’re not only one of the hardest-working and most talented journalists around, you’re also one of the bravest. And I think our readers should know the often dangerous lengths you go to. C’mon, Bud, you’ve witnessed storms far more perfect and been up into much thinner air than some people I don’t need to mention. Why not take some credit? But if it distresses you, I’ll have Sean reconfigure the link.

Now go. Write me a fabulous piece and come back safe. I mean that.


06/02/00 12:32 a.m.


Greetings from base camp! We begin the first leg of our climb in six hours. There seems to have been a bit of a mix-up, though. Instead of the expected team of eight Sherpas, we only have two. Rirkrit, the interpreter, assures me they’re the same age, but I’d say one of them is no older than 11 and the other one seems to be his grand-father. I’m loath to make either of them carry anything. Also re: our provisions. The cans of milk, soup, and potted beef have yet to arrive, although, oddly, we seem to have three cases of capers in brine. Kind of a garnish, don’t you think? Not a problem yet because we’re all going to fend for ourselves from our personal supplies until the discharge from cook’s left eye clears up. Can Sean have some real food airlifted from Kathmandu to the first station? It’s kind of key. We should be there by 2100h tomorrow.

Weird coincidence at the airport. Ran into an OWT Media Division camera crew. I introduced myself but they got very cagey when they heard my name and really closemouthed about what they were here for, like I would scoop them or something. They know we’re all on the same team, right?



06/07/00 8:48 a.m


The digital photos look so beautiful on the site! As you said in your last e-mail, the hunger might be interfering with your writing, but it sure doesn’t seem to have affected your peerless eye. In the meantime, I bet you’re getting really ripped. I envy you. I’m still trying to get rid of the extra ten pounds I gained at the retreat. I have no willpower at all. Luckily enough, I met the Duvaliers’ trainer in Gstaad, and he’s putting me through my paces. He was joking with Imelda Marcos’s dentist that maybe I should just have my jaw wired.

Have no fear. As soon as Sean returns (that boy sure loves a sample sale), I’ll have him try to arrange some supplies.

In the meantime, it might interest you to know that there is some serious buzz and heat going around about your trip. The book project’s up and running; I just got off the phone with OWT Legal and they’re hashing out the deal right now. I also saw mock-ups today for a possible feature-length cartoon. It’s just in the preliminary stages, but Danny DeVito may well do the voice of the misunderstood Yeti, and they’ve given you the funniest sidekick: a smart-aleck snowmonkey named Slush who tells the filthiest jokes in perfect Brooklynese. Hilarious!



06/12/00 3:23 p.m.


Things fairly desperate. Still waiting for airlift. Much of the OneWorldTech gear has proven woefully ineffective. Initial misgivings about those Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle tents 100 percent correct, unfortunately. Strange, but our communications equipment continues to work perfectly. Our younger Sherpa is now sleeping 13 hours a day. Also, while opening one of the last cans of capers, the older one cut his hand open and NOTHING CAME OUT!

I’m confused. What’s that OWT camera crew filming on the next ridge? They certainly seem to be engrossed in whatever it is, because no one’s responded to the flares I’ve repeatedly sent up. And while it’s always been a dream of mine to be a guest on Nightline, even if only by satellite phone hookup, I’m still wondering why Ted Koppel wished me “at the very least, peace of mind” at the end of last night’s segment.

Progressively less funny, Michael.

06/19/00 11:17 a.m.


I guess one of the wonders of technology is the capacity to lay a passive-aggressive guilt trip on me from 10,000 miles away. What gives, Bud? A whole week with no word and then last night’s (appallingly misspelled, I might add) posting on the Web site for all our readers to see? I don’t like being called a “murderous saboteur fuckwad” any more than you must like writing it. And the 200,000-plus hits on the site notwithstanding, the photo of you biting into that poor boy’s roasted leg was a little inappropriate. I’m sorry the last airlift wasn’t exactly what you ordered. It’s a mountain, Bud, not a hotel. Are you sure you can’t do anything with anchovy paste? Sean is trying his best to get you some other provisions and tents but he’s also very busy negotiating with PMK for a Harrison Ford cover, so we’ve all got to exercise a little patience.

And please, at least tell the truth, Bud. “Paying with my life for Michael’s Humvee”? You know they didn’t give me a Humvee, but I guess writing that I only test-drove one doesn’t make as good copy. Think, Bud: How would it benefit me personally, or anyone here at Thunderhead for that matter, to interfere with the safe and proper completion of your trip? You think I want a 3,500-word hole in my November issue? You might have asked yourself that before making such public accusations. Last I checked, libel was still actionable in this country.

I’M KIDDING! A joke! Remember jokes, Bud? We used to tell them to each other. I have no intention of bringing suit. You know, Dr. Laura Schlessinger taught us a wonderful saying on the retreat: “If you say ‘so pathetic’ fast enough, it’ll sound just like ‘copacetic.'” So that’s what I’m doing right now. I’m saying “so pathetic” as fast as I can. I hope you’re doing the same.

P.S. And no, I won’t have Sean accept your big toe COD, you kook!


06/23/00 11:27 a.m.
v To:

So warm…..Mommy?


July 2, 2000
My dearest Susan:

It seems unthinkable that Bud is no longer with us. What a wonderful man he was, Susan. Brave, committed, talented. And self-effacing to the end. In his final, heartbreaking dispatch, he wrote, “None of this would have happened if it weren’t for my editor, Michael.” How he could still think to share the credit in his darkest hour speaks volumes about his character.

Susan, I’d like to run Bud’s piece as a final testament to a great man and a great writer. And I’d like your permission to tell his story properly—as the cover for our October issue. Bud’s story, with its tragic epilogue, will be both a memorial and a cautionary tale. No doubt you’re in great distress right now, but if you’d like to talk about it, I’d very much like to send Sean, our newest editor, out to see you on Wednesday, if that’s OK. Just for a little while. Plus a photographer, if that’s OK. (If it’s not, Susan, just say the word.)

But Bud’s story must not just be told in the pages of Thunderhead. No, it must reach millions. Bud’s name should become synonymous with courage, grace, and wisdom in this country. That’s why I’m also sending, along with Sean, Todd Kirschenbaum, Senior Vice-President, Director of Motion Picture Development, OneWorldTech Productions, Director of Ancillary Product and Brand Management, OneWorldTech Heavy Industries. The working title for the film project is Fatal Death. It might seem shocking at first, but that’s what death is, Susan: fatal.

I’d like you to think long and hard before signing the releases Todd will give you. It’s not an easy decision by any means (and if any of this is not OK, Susan, please just say the word). But I hope you will sign—a lot of exciting things could be happening. I hadn’t wanted to spill the beans until the time was right, but I’ve just heard an early demo of Luther Vandross and Lea Salonga singing a love duet between your character and Bud’s, and frankly, it gave me chills. We’re holding the release of Fatal Death: The Book until the epilogue is written, and 48 Hours is postponing its airdate to coincide with that, too. All of this, of course, is contingent upon your say-so. (And if you don’t want to say so, Susan, just say so. I mean that sincerely.)

I’ll be in touch later this week to see if there’s anything else I can do. All my love to you and the girls. We’ve set up a tribute on the magazine’s Web site. Just log on to

In the meantime, again, I send you all my love.

P.S. The story is, as I mentioned, going to be a cover. There is no easy way to ask this: A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to receive from Bud the kind offer of his right big toe, which I declined in a moment of short-sighted pique. If you can find it among the personal effects recently sent to you—it’s probably a little desiccated from the elements, so it might look almost cashewlike now—I think this could be the image that says both “There but for the grace of God” and “Walk a mile in my shoes.” Feel free to use our FedEx account.


September 27, 2000

Greetings from the great beyond! Or in this case, the United States Military Hospital in Bahrain, where I’ve spent a fun-filled summer learning how to walk again and speak with half a tongue. Some friendly online subscribers read my final dispatches and alerted the authorities—I’m sure you were on the verge of doing that yourself—who airlifted me here.

It’s been a hard road back, but luckily enough, my team of doctors assures me that my diet of human flesh has only enhanced my capacity to sue your ass, Michael. You might want to call up Mr. Simon and tell him to get that frozen kidney ready. He’s gonna need it.

Gotta go. Lisa Ling’s here to give me a sponge bath for The View. Also, I told Charlie Rose that thing about him cleaning your house and he didn’t laugh. Why do you think that is, Michael?



November 12, 2002
Dear Bud:

Just got the first Annie-Purna review from Daily Variety. It’s a rave! You were absolutely right: They loved Whoopi’s yak and said that Cameron Diaz’s Susan the Tibetan Princess was “the most sensual cartoon heroine since Ariel lost her shell bra in Little Mermaid All Grown Up.” And Fatal Death: The Book is still holding steady at No. 5 on the New York Times Bestseller List. Welcome to the world of moguldom. Do me a favor, check me into Bellevue the next time I give the writer points on the back end!

Guess who parked my car at Olive the other day? Your old editor, my former boss, Michael. He tried to get all chummy. So pathetic.

Kiss that gorgeous wife for me.

Outside correspondent David Rakoff’s Masterpiece Theater teleplay adaptation of Fatal Death is in turnaround.

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