Erma Bombeck

Death of Erma Bombeck

February 21, 1927 - April 22, 1996
San Francisco, California | Age 69

Housewife humorist dead at 69


Erma Bombeck, the housewife humorist whose wry take on suburban life _ from cleaning toilets to getting the kids to take out the trash _ earned her a wall of fame of yellowing columns on refrigerators across America, died Monday after a kidney transplant. She was 69.

"Erma Bombeck taught those of us who write columns that the funniest things are the things that our readers know the best _ houses, cars, kitchens and of course kids," fellow humor columnist Dave Barry said.

Bombeck died at a hospital in San Francisco, where she underwent a transplant earlier this month.

The titles of her books reveal her way of looking at the world: "I Lost Everything in the Postnatal Depression," "The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank," "If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?" and "When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It's Time to Go Home."

Bombeck began her column in 1965. It appeared twice a week in about 600 newspapers, amusing readers with her gentle, self-deprecating humor.

Writing about her son's speed in the 100-yard dash, Bombeck said: "9.9! I figured it had to be nine days and nine hours. I once asked him to run the garbage out to the can and it sat by the sink until it turned into a bookend."

She used her light touch on more weighty issues, including that inevitable time when children leave home. "Wouldn't it be wonderful if parents could look at their teen-agers and say, `I want you to stay, but you can't.' Wouldn't it be wonderful if teen-agers could look at their parents and say, `I don't want to leave, but I must.' It's so much better to close the door gently on childhood than to slam it," she wrote in 1990.

Even with her success, Bombeck still did housework, wrote about shopping at discount stores and said she never forgot the excitement of earning $3 per column when she began her career.

"I can't let go of being a housewife," she told Life magazine. "You have to be part of it or you don't know what you're talking about. You've got to empty the garbage, swish out the toilet bowls. Doing the laundry keeps you humble."

Another expert on suburban living, "Hints From Heloise" author Ponce Cruse Evans, said Bombeck's insight into daily life was uncanny.

"I think all of us at one time or another, read her columns and said, `That's my life. How did she know that?'" Heloise said. "I used to call her and say, `Did you have a spy in my kitchen? Did my husband call you and tell you I do that?'

"She knew the joys and trials of our daily lives, yet she managed to say things with such hilarious humor that it all seemed OK."

Bombeck was diagnosed in 1992 with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy. Shortly after that, her kidneys began failing from a hereditary disorder. She underwent dialysis four times a day at her home and went on a waiting list for a kidney transplant.

Doctors had diagnosed the kidney disorder, called adult polycystic kidney disease, in 1949.

She underwent the transplant early this month at the Medical Center of the University of California at San Francisco. The hospital said she died of complications following the transplant.

Bombeck was an Ohio housewife when she decided she would write a humor column about married life in the suburbs. Knowing the editors of the Dayton Journal Herald would not hire someone with no experience, she began writing for the editor's neighborhood newspapers in 1965.

Within a year, she was writing two columns a week for the Journal Herald, and a few weeks later, she was syndicated.

Bombeck also was a correspondent on ABC's "Good Morning America" for 11 years and wrote a short-lived 1980 television comedy, "Maggie."

"Most of my readers are housewives," Bombeck once said. "I'm saying, `Hey, let's look at us! We've all been there. We're all in this mess together. Let's get some fun out of it.'"

But she could turn serious, as in her book on children surviving cancer, "I Want to Grow Hair, I Want to Grow Up, I Want to go to Boise." The profits from the 1989 book were donated to cancer research _ three years before Bombeck was diagnosed with the disease.

Bombeck is survived by her husband of 47 years, Bill; daughter Betsy; and sons Matthew and Andrew.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete.

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