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Charles Bukowski Is Dead at 73; Poet Whose Subject Was Excess
By WILLIAM GRIMES
Published: March 11, 1994
Charles Bukowski, a poet, novelist and screenwriter whose heavy drinking and hard living were brought to the screen in the 1987 film “Barfly,” died on Wednesday in San Pedro Peninsula Hospital in Los Angeles. He was 73 and lived in San Pedro, the Los Angeles port neighborhood.
The cause was leukemia, said Harvey Klinger, the agent for Black Sparrow Press, Mr. Bukowski’s publisher.
Mr. Bukowski was a bard of the barroom and the brothel, a direct descendant of the Romantic visionaries who worshiped at the altar of personal excess, violence and madness. In works like “Flower, Fist and Bestial Wail,” “Poems Written Before Jumping Out of an Eight-Story Window,” “Legs, Hips and Behind” and “Ham on Rye,” he acted as a tour guide to the nightmare of his own personality, writing in tough, direct language. Indeed, the title of one of his best-known works, “Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions and General Tales of Ordinary Madness,” can be taken as the author’s guide to living. Born in Germany
Mr. Bukowski was born in Andernach, Germany, and was brought to the United States at the age of 2. He once said in a magazine interview that he began drinking at 13 to dull the pain of being beaten continually by his father. After attending Los Angeles City College from 1939 to 1941, he moved to New York City to become a writer. Over the years, he supported himself by working as a dishwasher, truck driver, mailman, parking-lot attendant, elevator operator and Red Cross orderly. He once hung posters in the New York City subways.
In 1946, as the rejection slips piled up, Mr. Bukowski set out on a decadelong period devoted to drink and travel. In 1956, near death, he returned to writing. His poems were first published in Los Angeles newspapers like Open City and The Los Angeles Free Press and in little magazines. “Flower, Fist and Bestial Wail,” his first poetry collection, was published in 1959, and over the years at least 40 more books followed, all of them rooted in the experiences of a loner and outcast with a keen eye for the absurd.
In novels and short-story collections like “Notes of a Dirty Old Man” (1969), “Post Office” (1971), “Factotum” (1975) and “Ham on Rye” (1982), Mr. Bukowski relied on an alter ego named Henry Chinaski, a down-and-out writer with a fierce dedication to women, drink, gambling and failure.
Mr. Bukowski wrote the screenplay for Barbet Schroeder’s “Barfly,” in which Mickey Rourke portrayed the poet in his younger days. His experiences as a screenwriter led to the novel “Hollywood” (1989).
Just before his death, Mr. Bukowski completed “Pulp,” a mystery novel that will be published in the summer. An anthology of his work, “Run With the Hunted,” was published in 1993.
He is survived by his second wife, Linda Lee, and a daughter, Marina, of Bellevue, Wash.
Photo: Charles Bukowski (Michael Montfort, 1989)