'Meat School' poet Bukowski dies at age 73

March 10, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- Charles Bukowski, the prolific writer and poet laureate of Los Angeles low-life whose rough-hewn autobiographical poems, short stories, novels and 1987 film "Barfly" chronicled his hard-bitten alcoholic youth, died yesterday. He was 73.

Mr. Bukowski, a cult favorite in Europe before he achieved fame at home, died of leukemia at San Pedro Peninsula Hospital, said his wife, Linda. She said that although he had suffered from the disease for about a year, he had worked until recently.

A book of his letters, "Screams from the Balcony," was published a few months ago, and a new book of poetry, "Pulp," is scheduled for publication in three weeks.

"If I die," he told the Los Angeles Times in an interview in 1987, "I hope I go with my head on that typewriter. It's my battlefield."

Considered the leader of the tough, masculine "Meat School" poets, Mr. Bukowski reveled in subjects left alone by more genteel contemporaries -- sex, violence, alcohol abuse. Yet he wrote and spoke in the sweet, syncopated rhythms that unquestionably are labeled poetry.

"I've been run over, beaten up, jailed -- I've picked up a lot of baggage along the way, everything from ex-wives to ex-jobs," he said in 1987 after "Barfly" won him interviews in national media. "I've always been worried about my damn soul -- maybe I worry too much. But you carry in one hand a bundle of darkness that accumulates each day. And when death finally comes, you say right away, 'Hey, buddy, glad to see ya!' "

A disciplined and prolific writer in spite of his hard-drinking, womanizing, gambler persona, Mr. Bukowski published more than 1,000 poems, 32 books of poetry, five books of short stories, half a dozen novels and the screenplay.

Mr. Bukowski's hero frequently was his alter ego Henry Chinaski, a hard-drinking, womanizing, gambling writer who stumbles between bars and odd jobs. Chinaski was played by actor Mickey Rourke in "Barfly," which concentrated on three days in Mr. Bukowski's life at age 24.

Said to have mellowed in his later years -- switching from hard liquor to red wine and swallowing 40 vitamin pills a day -- Mr. Bukowski had lived the rough life he described.

Born in Andernach, Germany, in 1920, he moved to the United States with his family as a toddler, living first in Baltimore, then moving to Southern California. His father beat him with a razor strop for even minor infractions, causing such stress that the child developed boils that scarred his complexion for life.

He was bullied by other boys and rejected by girls. At age 13, he discovered alcohol.

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