My Friend Larry Gelbart

Achingly funny as it was, Larry Gelbart's writing gave off sparks that turned a hard light on the way we are. Some people even said at the time that his episodes of M*A*S*H, with their unblinking account of the costs of war, helped our country lose its patience with the one they were then fighting in Vietnam. He certainly pointed us, with zero sentimentality, toward a more compassionate look at one another. Many physicians have told me they entered medicine to become the kind of doctor they saw in the character of Hawkeye Pierce.

Larry, who died September 11, at 81, had a graceful presence and humble affability that didn't hint at his enormous influence. He inspired many other writers, although few could match his skill at folding words together like verbal origami.

But, I remember him above all for being the one everyone at the table wanted to be sitting next to. Wit wafted from him like perfume from a rose.

He was incandescent. Larry's genius for writing changed my life because I got to speak his lines -- lines that were so good they'll be with us for a long, long time; but his other genius -- his immense talent for being good company -- that's a light that's gone out, and now we're all sitting here in the dark.