Will Stephenson at the Oxford American:
Terry Southern collapsed on a bright Wednesday afternoon in 1995 while climbing a staircase on the campus of Columbia University, where he taught screenwriting. His girlfriend, Gail Gerber, was parked across the street and watched him stumble backward and fall, his glasses and backpack scattering around him on the steps. He’d recently suffered a mild stroke and a bout with colon cancer that left his hair white and his vision blurred. He walked with a cane. He was seventy-one years old, though Gerber would later write that he “looked like he was 140.”
Not long before, Southern had been forced to remortgage his farm in East Canaan, Connecticut, where he spent most of his days sleeping, eating meals in bed, and talking to his two orange cats. Gerber taught ballet classes to supplement their income—Southern hadn’t had a script produced since 1988’s The Telephone, starring Whoopi Goldberg (“As dull [as] it is exhausting to watch,” claimed the New York Times). Sometimes students would stop by as a kind of pilgrimage, and he’d sit on the porch with them and drink wine. In his last days, he’d also developed a compulsive hatred of flies and would stalk the house spraying them with Raid. Gerber had resorted to hiding the Raid cans under the sink, hoping he wouldn’t notice.