“Last Lecture” Professor Randy Pausch, 47, Dies
The New York Times
Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon computer science professor whose last lecture became an Internet sensation and bestselling book, has died of pancreatic cancer. He was 47.
Dr. Pausch, whose proudest professional achievement was creating a free computer programming tool for children called Alice, was an improbable celebrity. A self-professed nerd, he pushed his students to create virtual reality projects, celebrated the joy of amusement parks and even spent a brief stint as a Disney “Imagineer.’’
Last September, Dr. Pausch unexpectedly stepped on an international stage when he addressed a crowd of about 400 faculty and students at Carnegie Mellon as part of the school’s “Last Lecture” series. In the talks, professors typically talk about issues that matter most to them. Dr. Pausch opened his talk with the news that he had terminal cancer and proceeded to deliver an uplifting, funny talk about his own childhood dreams and how to help his children and others achieve their own goals in life. He learned he had pancreatic cancer in September, 2006.
Sitting in the audience was Carnegie Mellon alumnus Jeff Zaslow, a columnist with The Wall Street Journal, who wrote about the speech. Media outlets and bloggers linked to the story, and more than 10 million people have since watched an Internet video of the talk. The lecture was translated into seven languages, and Hyperion published a book version that became a New York Times bestseller.
I was fortunate to meet Dr. Pausch this spring and was amazed by his boyish good nature and optimistic outlook even in the face of death. During an April interview near his home in Virginia, he called the furor surrounding his lecture “a ridiculous chain of coincidental luck.’’
“I was thrilled because my whole life anything I could do to get Carnegie Mellon some well-deserved exposure, I always felt compelled to do,’’ he said.
But, he added, he never expected so many people to tune in to his advice about letting kids paint on their walls and win stuffed animals at amusement parks. “I didn’t set out to tell the world about how to live their life,’’ he said.
Dr. Pausch died early today at his home in Virginia. Although Dr. Pausch was famous for his poignant, frank discussion of his impending death, he was also aggressive about seeking treatments that could prolong his life and the time he had left to spend with his wife, Jai, and their three children. A lifetime problem solver, Dr. Pausch was determined to help his wife and children cope with his death. “I haven’t found a way to clever my way out of it,’’ he told me.
Although cancer and his last lecture helped make him a celebrity, Dr. Pausch said much in his life was the same as always.
“Cancer didn’t change me at all,’’ he said. “I know lots of people talk about the life revelation. I didn’t have that. I always thought every day was a gift, but now I am looking for where to send the thank you note.’’
On the Well blog, Dr. Pausch first gave us “Words to Live By,’’ followed by a fun contest that led to advice for our kids. Most recently, he gave us “A Lesson on How to Say Goodbye” and talked about “Keeping Priorities Straight, Even at the End.”
Randy Pausch’s homepage.