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You Cannot Live As I Have Lived and Not End Up Like This: The thoroughly disgraceful life and times of Willie Donaldson [Paperback]

Terence Blacker
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 Feb 2008

Though born into privilege and inheriting a fortune, Willie Donaldson ended up dying alone in a seedy rented flat, his computer still logged on to a lesbian porn site. To some, he had been one of the great, under-rated comic writers of our time, and to others, a dangerous force of corruption and decadence.

His achievements were significant - he published Sylvia Plath while still at Cambridge, as a producer in the Sixties he staged Beyond the Fringe, and he was later to write the celebrated Henry Root Letters - but not as impressive as his reckless talent for self-destruction. The impresario became a serial bankrupt. The man about town, who had lived with Sarah Miles and been engaged to Carly Simon, ended up as a ponce in a Chelsea brothel. Success as a writer quickly led him into a dark underworld of crack addiction, fraud and sexual obsession. Now friend and collaborator, Terence Blacker unravels the intimate truth of Willie Donaldson's strange story in all its glamour, hilarity and pain.

'What a young fool I was. But how I adored him' Carly Simon

'A slimy crook' Private Eye

'For the skill and wit of his writing he deserves to be hailed as the English Nabokov' Auberon Waugh

'I am someone who always answers the phone at 1.00 am, because I know it isn't going to be my bank manager or the Inland Revenue, but probably a crack dealer or a prostitute' Willie Donaldson

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Ebury Press (7 Feb 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 009191387X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0091913878
  • Product Dimensions: 2.6 x 12.8 x 19.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 295,752 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"A startling and brilliant biography that reads like a Rake's Progress for the 21st century" (Daily Mail)

"Once in a blue moon comes a biography that has the texture of life-as-it-is-lived, the usual province of fiction... With stealth and sympathy, the biographer has followed his subject's footsteps into all sorts of strange by-ways, most of them frightening or humiliating or forlorn" (Craig Brown Daily Telegraph)

"Superb... it would be a brilliant picaresque novel, if it were not all true" (Independent on Sunday)

"Utterly gripping... hilarious, heartbreaking" (India Knight Sunday Times)

"Sympathetic and extremely enjoyable" (Daily Telegraph)

Book Description

'A startling and brilliant biography that reads like a Rake's Progress for the 21st century' - Daily Mail

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Crazy guy 26 Feb 2008
I read this in two days so I suppose that makes it an "easy" read. Donaldson seems to have been one of those dissolute souls who had trouble coping with the realities of the world. Initially divorced from such reality through extreme wealth he later escaped through drugs and debauched living. Undoubtedly a witty and engaging man, he appears to have had little loyalty for his friends which makes it quite strange to find how much loyalty they had to him.

This is an engaging biography of someone who could have been much more famous than he was, and anyone who obviously upset the incalculably smug editors of Private Eye has to have had something going for him
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars True Eccentric 6 Nov 2009
A hilarious account of a self destructing true eccentric who lived a unique existence, unable to comform to normal social values and habits. He lived and died on the edge of chaos and this book I think is quite a kind and fond study of someone who lived his life his own way. Compelling.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic book, funny, warm and gobsmacking 3 July 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
What a life! I absolutely loved this book and would have dearly loved to meet its subject too. The writing is warm, generous and knowing, as befits an old friend, but also objective and perceptive. It's also very could it not be, given the subject. Great title too.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Somehow I ended up liking Willie Donaldson 4 Jun 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I had heard of The Henry Root letters, but Willie Donaldson and his career had passed me by. He belongs- on the margins, of course- to the generation of the Sixties satire boom. Peter Cook, the Pythons, Jonathan Miller, Richard Ingrams, Paul Foot, John Wells, John Bird etc, although mercifully of the showbiz and hedonism tendency of Kenneth Tynan rather than the Christian moralism of the loathed Ingrams. Invariably Home Counties, upper middle class, minor (or major in Donaldson's case) public school, inevitably Oxbridge. They always seemed pretty establishment to me, the sort of men destined to be partners in law firms in county towns, specialising in conveyancing. But the 60s made them entertainers, and they organised their media career just as wisely. But not in the case of Willie Donaldson.

The book moves along at an agreeably brisk pace. I much appreciated the use of short chapters where appropriate. There are three movements. The first takes us rather pedestrianly through the earlier years, where it is all too clear Terence Blacker has only secondhand knowledge of him- the affluent but unlovely childhood; Winchester and Oxford; his first successful and then disastrous steps in showbiz; the start of his compulsive romances; the negligent father to Charlie. There are few insights, Donaldson finding his true self as the rebellious sixties became the sleazy, top shelf seventies. Then the quality of Blacker's writing and enthusiasm for his subject improves as Donaldson, unemployable in showbiz and with a string of dodgy failed business ventures behind him, settles down to a career writing what the trade calls 'toilet books', fuelled by his big success, Henry Root-- presumably when Blacker first knew him personally.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Best book I've read in a long time 28 Feb 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Hilarious. So much so I looked into buying the Henry Root Letters which I remember from the 80s but it's obviously out of print as it's horrendously expensive to buy on Amazon. Will just have to keep an eye out for it in secondhand bookshops or in libraries.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Review 20 Mar 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
You would have to know something about this very curiuos man to fully appreciate his eccentricity.

Ultimately a futile life but for any student of the 50's and 60's including those of a certain age it is an entertaining and enlightening read.
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