“During the conversation, he was really coughing a lot,” Ms. Augustyn recalled. “He’d say, ‘I’m sorry, excuse me, give me a minute.’ But at the end of the conversation he said, ‘I’m not well, I have to go, do you have what you need?’”
Ms. Augustyn planned to get more material in person at the Indianapolis lecture, but when Mr. Vonnegut died, she decided to pitch what she had as a direct transcript to In These Times because she knew the magazine was so close to Mr. Vonnegut’s heart.
In the introduction to the Q.&A. she referred to her conversation with the author in the intro text as “what was to be his last interview.” (I hadn’t heard about he U.S. Airways in-flight magazine interview,” Mr. Bleifuss later wrote in an e-mail to The Observer.)
She said she wrote that because the magazine’s editor, Joel Bleifuss, a long-time friend of Mr. Vonnegut’s, told her it was true.
But as it happened, Mr. Rentilly talked to Mr. Vonnegut for his US Airways story a week later, on March 6.
According to Lance Elko, who edits the US Airways magazine, Mr. Rentilly’s interview was going to be published anyway; the issue in which it appeared was on its way to the printer when news of Vonnegut’s death reached the newsroom.
“We were prepared to run it on its own merits, and then Mr. Vonnegut died, and we were like, ‘Wow, is this the last one?’” Mr. Elko said.
He said he talked to Mr. Vonnegut’s publicist, Ruth Weiner, who confirmed to him that Mr. Rentilly’s Q.&A. was, indeed, the last interview Vonnegut had given before the accident in his apartment.
Mr. Elko adjusted the copy to reflect this; the teaser text now read, with the slightest hint of satisfaction, “The last interview with one of America’s great men of letters.”
US Airways had the pearl fair and square, it seemed, except that Mr. Rentilly’s Q&A, as it appeared on page, was found to contain two quotes that Vonnegut had actually given Mr. Rentilly five years earlier, when he spoke to him for a McSweeney’s article. That piece, which ran as a three-part Q&A on the McSweeney’s Web site, was substantially darker and more personal than what ended up in US Airways—sample question: “Have you ever simply wanted to stop living?”—but two passages unmistakably appeared in both. One was about Mr. Vonnegut’s brother Bernie; the other was about how he tried to write in the voice of a child so that everyone could understand him.