He was a devoted fan of Monty Python and South Park, so that should give some insight into the life of Walter George Bruhl Jr. who passed away March 9 at the age of 80.
It's his obituary that has attracted national – and even international – attention as possibly one of the most witty end-of-life writings ever. The self-penned obituary was first published on CapeGazette.com March 11 and within 24 hours it had more than 30,000 views. That number exploded to more than 330,000 views three days later.
While almost every obituary is written in a serious tone, Walt wrote his own using his lifetime of experiences as a springboard to express the humorous way he approached life.
When his grandson, Sam Bruhl of Newark, posted the obituary on Facebook and Reddit, it went viral with more than 850,000 views in two days. “Typical of my PopPop: he cut out the middleman and wrote his own ... obituary. He's the only man I've ever known to be able to add his own humor like this,” Sam wrote on his Facebook page where he published the original copy with spaces left to fill in his grandfather's age and date of death.
Walt passed away at Charlotte County Hospital in Punta Gorda, Fla., and his arrangements were handled by Larry Taylor Funeral and Cremation in Punta Gorda. It's that funeral home that Cape Gazette Editor Trish Vernon called to validate the obituary submission. “In 40 years, this is the most unusual obituary I've run across,” she said.
Perhaps the most brilliant line in the obituary is this one: “Instead of flowers, Walt would hope that you will do an unexpected and unsolicited act of kindness for some poor unfortunate soul in his name.”
The story about Walter's obituary was published in USA Today and picked up by many other Gannett newspapers across the country – from Seattle to Detroit. Numerous TV stations – including stations in Chicago and New York City – also featured the story of the unusual obituary. The United Kingdom's Daily Mail had a feature story on George Bruhl's obituary. Even BuzzFeed, a highly-popular social and entertainment website, ran the story. And the popular fark.com website featured it as the obit of the day.
Cape Gazette Publisher Dennis Forney was interviewed March 13 for a Washington, D.C. Newseum radio show about the obituary.
The obituary begins: “Walter George Bruhl Jr. of Newark and Dewey Beach is a dead person; he is no more; he is bereft of life; he is deceased; he has rung down the curtain and gone to join the choir invisible; he has expired and gone to meet his maker.
“He drifted off this mortal coil Sunday, March 9, 2014, in Punta Gorda, Fla. His spirit was released from his worn-out shell of a body and is now exploring the universe.”
Walt was a Marine Corps veteran who served during the Korean War era. He worked at “the late great” DuPont Company from 1962-1995 and divided time between homes in Newark and Dewey Beach.
He was legendary for his comments on Facebook. Sam says he plans to publish some of his grandfather's best writings in the near future. “He was my favorite writer and an amazing man that I'm glad I got to share a part of my life with,” he said.
“There will be no viewing since his wife refuses to honor his request to have him standing in the corner of the room with a glass of Jack Daniels in his hand so he would appear natural to visitors,” Walt wrote. Family and friends will honor his memory during a luncheon at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 15, at Deerfield near Newark.
He also noted that Helene, his wife of 57 years, will be able to buy the mink coat she has always wanted because he had believed only minks should wear mink.
He wrote: “Everyone who remembers him is asked to celebrate Walt’s life in their own way; raising a glass of their favorite drink in his memory would be quite appropriate.”
Bruhl made some news in Dewey Beach
The obituary doesn't include Walt's interaction with Dewey Beach officials. His condo on Read Street received substantial damage during Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.
To repair the condo, he wanted to elevate the structure 11 feet, which was higher than the 8 feet town code allowed. His condo was non-conforming and built into existing setbacks. According to town officials, the higher elevation would require a total rebuild and actual movement of the condo to comply with setbacks.
However, the town's board of adjustment approved Bruhl's request because his plan did not violate the town's 35-foot height limitation. That decision did not sit well with some other residents of Read Street who have appealed the board's action in Superior Court.
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Comments from across the U.S.
Many comments centered around the idea of copying his example.
Nancy Longo wrote:
“Note to self: while lucid please write your obit as this man did. God bless him. Sorry I never met him.”
A friend, Peter Lucas, wrote in part:
“His obit is very much like Walter was. Funny, truthful, could be hurtful, self-depreciating, definitely straight to the point and likeable.”
Another friend, Tim Cook, wrote:
“I will always remember him as Foghorn Leghorn. Truly one of a kind.”
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• Read the obituary and comments here.
• Read a discussion about the obituary here.
• Read about the Bruhls' home on Read Ave. here.