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Brendan Behan Is Dead

Mar. 20, 1964 - Brendan Behan (pictured in Dublin in 1960), the Irish playwright, died today at Meath Hospital in Dublin. He was 41 years old. Behan, who once said “there’s no bad publicity except an obituary,” entered the hospital on March 10 suffering from diabetes, jaundice, and kidney and liver complaints — aggravated by his renowned drinking bouts. He lapsed into a coma five days ago and regained consciousness only briefly thereafter. The playwright was given the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church Monday.

Behan once described himself as a Catholic but a bad one. In his writings, he frequently inveighed against the church and its priests.

“I don’t respect the law,” Behan once wrote. “I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper, and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer.”

Smugness, authority, and The Establishment were his sworn enemies.

This was his opinion of the police: “The world being a madhouse, who is more fitting to patrol its wards than armed idiots?”

His progress through life was disordered and uncompromising. It included long spells in jails and hospitals, countless rows with pub keepers and the police, and a wilderness of emptied bottles of Guinness stout and Irish whisky.

“As regards drink,” he wrote, “I can only say that in Dublin during the Depression when I was growing up, drunkenness was not regarded as a social disgrace. To get enough to eat was regarded as an achievement. To get drunk was a victory.”

As a teenager, he learned the trade of revolution with the Irish Republican Army, a secret organization devoted to the violent overthrow of British rule in the six northern counties of Ireland. In 1939, at the age of 16, he was sent to England to assist in the blowing up of a British battleship.

He was arrested and sentenced to three years in Borstal, a corrective institution. His experiences there formed the substance of the book that made him famous, an anecdotal record of events observed with a sort of innocent cynicism. The book, “Borstal Boy,” was published in the U.S. in 1958.

His most successful play was “The Hostage,” first produced in Dublin in 1958. It later ran in London and off Broadway. The hostage in the play is a British soldier being kept prisoner in a Dublin brothel in an attempt to keep the British from executing an I.R.A. prisoner.

In London, several performances of “The Hostage” were interrupted by the author, who mounted the stage and quarreled with the actors. He said it was good for the box office.

A new novel by Mr. Behan, “The Scarperer,” is scheduled for publication by Doubleday on June 26.


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