Can Eliot Spitzer Change the First Line of His Obituary?

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Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Six months after Eliot Spitzer admitted to paying for sex with women who weren't his wife and resigned as governor, his friend and mentor Alan Dershowitz told the New York Times, "One of his goals has to be to make this a footnote in his obituary, and not make it the lead." Generously, the Harvard law professor said, "I told him that I think, in the end, this incident will be a footnote to a great life lived greatly, and that he still has the ability to make enormous contributions."

Spitzer was not so sure. "My obituary's written," he said, "with shocking finality," in a tearful Vanity Fair interview a year later. "And that is a very hard thing to live with." But now the comeback is upon us, and Spitzer, all of a sudden, is the favorite to become the next comptroller of New York City. While winning an obscure public office won't be enough to temper his disgrace when it comes time for memorials — hopefully a very long time from now — it's a start, according to the obituary writers we polled.

What, then, would Spitzer have to do to not be remembered primarily for prostitutes: Become mayor? President? Commit an even worse offense? The short answer is that the scandal is never going away — he can only hope to balance it out.

"My guess is that it leads," said Times obit writer Bruce Weber. "I'd say about the best he could hope for is 'Eliot Spitzer, who overcame a sex scandal that forced his resignation as governor of New York to become FILL IN THE BLANK … ' That even works with 'two-time president of the United States who brokered a lasting peace in the Middle East.'"

Stephen Miller, an obituary writer for The Wall Street Journal, agreed: "Spitzer could become U.S. president or a highly accomplished NYC mayor and maybe get a sympathetic lead, but this story will never die," he said. "He could discover a cure for cancer and yet the prostitution scandal would be the nut graf about how his iron will to benefit mankind refused to be broken. We obit writers like telling stories, and this one has sex, power, humiliation, all kinds of fun stuff."

Even if Spitzer's return was monumental, said Tampa Bay Times obit writer Andrew Meacham, it's "kind of a catch-22," because "the very heights of his future achievements could tempt a writer to put everything in the [first sentence] because of the contrast!" Meacham did note that former senator Robert Byrd's KKK membership wasn't mentioned until the sixteenth paragraph of his Times obituary, but added, "It was so long ago and didn't really factor into his political life." Spitzer, then, should probably aspire to be the oldest man to ever travel to Mars.

Tom Hawthorn, a winner of multiple Society of Professional Obituary Writers Grimmy awards, joked, "Nobel laureate Eliot Spitzer, whose stellar public career once seemed squandered by a midlife prostitution scandal, died yesterday … " "It's gonna be up there no matter what his later achievements," he said.

"Or Spitzer could go the other way and commit a heinous crime," offered Jade Walker, the author of the Blog of Death. "I don't see that happening, of course, but if he does head down a path of murder, kidnapping, rape, or genocide, the prostitution scandal will likely be relegated to a later paragraph."