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Jewish columnist dies of cancer

LONDON, March 5 (JTA) – John Diamond, a much-beloved writer for Britain’s Jewish Chronicle, who had written about his throat cancer in the Times of London since he was diagnosed in April 1997, died last Friday.

He was 47.

Writer Salman Rushdie hailed him as “a loyal pal and one of the funniest men I knew.”

Many people commented on the cruel irony of Diamond having lost his tongue to his illness. A radio broadcaster and well-known humorist, he was unable to speak. Married to the famous cook Nigella Lawson, he was unable to eat or taste.

But friend Victoria Coren wrote in the British newspaper The Observer, “Perhaps the greatest irony was that, although usually the only person in the room with a terminal illness, he always seemed the most alive.

“John in the hospital, having chemotherapy, taking liquids into a stomach tube, could still write a better, funnier, more interesting column than 90 percent” of British journalists, said Coren, who adapted Diamond’s best-selling book “C: Because Cowards Get Cancer Too” into the stage play “A Lump in My Throat.”

He was recently short-listed for the British Press Association Columnist of the Year award for his weekly Jewish Chronicle column.

Ned Temko, the editor of the Chronicle, remembered Diamond’s response when he was asked to write a weekly column.

“Within 30 seconds, I got an e-mail back from him saying, ‘My mother thought you’d never ask,’ ” Temko told JTA.

Diamond was born in London’s East End – the cultural equivalent of New York’s Lower East Side – and had a strong Jewish identity. His columns were seeped in Yiddishkeit.

“Although he wasn’t religious, he was profoundly Jewish and proud of being Jewish,” Temko said.

Throughout his illness, Diamond maintained a positive outlook, often to his own surprise.

On seeing an obituary that a friend had written for him in advance, Diamond said, “I hope they’re not paying you for it on publication.”

Jewish Chronicle editor Temko said response to Diamond’s death flooded into the newspaper’s office within an hour of the announcement of his death.

“He was a wonderful man and a wonderful writer. It all sounds like cliches, but it’s absolutely true,” he said.

In addition to his wife, Diamond is survived by his two children, Cosima, 4, and Bruno, 2.

A collection of Diamond’s columns is available at the Jewish Chronicle Web site, www.thejc.com.

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