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Featured Memorial | Randy Pausch

Randy Pausch Obituary


PITTSBURGH (AP) - Randy Pausch said obstacles serve a purpose: They "give us a chance to show how badly we want something." Confronted with incurable cancer, he devised a last lecture that became an Internet sensation, a best-selling book and a celebration of a life spent achieving his dreams.

Ten months after giving the lecture, Pausch died Friday at his home in Chesapeake, Va., said Jeffrey Zaslow, the Wall Street Journal writer who co-wrote Pausch's book "The Last Lecture." Pausch was 47.

Pausch was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in September 2006. A year later, he gave the popular 76-minute speech titled "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams."

A professor of computer science, human-computer interaction and design, Pausch was recognized as a pioneer of virtual reality research and became known on campus for his flamboyance and showmanship as a teacher and mentor.

In April, the book "The Last Lecture" was published and leaped to the top of the nonfiction best-seller lists, where it remained this week. The book deal was reported to be worth more than $6 million.

Pausch said he dictated the book to Zaslow by cell phone, and Zaslow recalled Friday that he was "strong and funny" during their collaboration.

"It was the most fun 53 days of my life because it was like a performance," Zaslow told The Associated Press. "It was like getting 53 extra lectures."

He recalled that Pausch became emotional when they worked on the last chapter, though, because that to him was the "end of the lecture, the book, his life."

The speech last fall was part of a series Carnegie Mellon previously called "The Last Lecture," where professors were asked to think about what matters to them most and give a hypothetical final talk.

Only in Pausch's case, the popular professor really was facing death — and he talked about what his childhood dreams had taught him about life.

"It's not about how to achieve your dreams, it's about how to lead your life," Pausch told the audience. "If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself, the dreams will come to you."

Pausch's lecture began with him standing before a screen beaming down chilling CT images of the tumors in his liver under the title "The Elephant in the Room." He said he had recently been told he had no more than six months of good health left.

"I'm in really good shape. In fact, I am in better shape than most of you," Pausch said, dropping to the floor to do push-ups.

His childhood dreams included writing an article in the World Book encyclopedia ("I guess you can tell the nerds early"), winning big stuffed animals at the amusement park, being Captain Kirk of "Star Trek," and playing in the NFL.

He did write for World Book, on virtual reality; talked his way into a flight on the NASA "vomit comet" plane that simulates the effect of weightlessness; and amassed a herd of jumbo stuffed animals. He met William Shatner, who played Kirk on "Star Trek."

He recalled applying to be a Disney imagineer, and getting back "the damn nicest go-to-hell letters I've ever gotten." But the rejection didn't discourage him and he wound up, indeed, doing design work for Disney.

"The brick walls are not there to keep us out, the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something," he said. "Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don't want it badly enough. They're there to stop the OTHER people."

As for the NFL, he didn't meet that goal — but he noted how youth football taught him such valuable lessons as the need to learn the fundamentals. And after his lecture last fall, the Pittsburgh Steelers invited him to take part in a practice, which was "fantastic beyond my wildest dreams," he told The New York Times.

Pausch's message and story were so powerful they landed him on "Oprah" and other TV shows. He said he was embarrassed and flattered. But really, he said, the speech was for his three children.

Born in 1960, Pausch received his bachelor's degree in computer science from Brown University and his Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon. He taught at the University of Virginia from 1988 to 1997, when he came to Carnegie Mellon.

He co-founded Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center, a master's program for bringing artists and engineers together. He also created an animation-based teaching program called Alice designed to teach computer programming to high school and college students.

In February, the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences in California announced the creation of the Dr. Randy Pausch Scholarship Fund for university students who pursue careers in game design, development and production.

He is survived by his wife, Jai, and their three children, Dylan, Logan and Chloe; his mother, Virginia Pausch of Columbia, Md.; and a sister, Tamara Mason of Lynchburg, Va.

In a statement Friday, his wife thanked those who sent messages of support and said her husband was proud that his lecture and book "inspired parents to revisit their priorities, particularly their relationships with their children."

Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press


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