RIP Joe Gracey, Texas Music Legend and Passionate Cook and Eater

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This self-styled "borderless bon vivant" lived for food and wrote about it from the heart

Wiener Mobile

Early in 2009, Gracey's eating career pretty much came to an end. “I figure it’s time to talk to my friends and readers who may be interested in what I’ve been up to lately,” he wrote in his blog. “The quick answer is I learned that I have cancer. Again. After 30 joyous years of being a proud ‘survivor’…." At first, this seemed to be a blessing in disguise. Treatment options were far more advanced than they had been when he had cancer the first time and Gracey loved his doctors at MD Anderson, the legendary cancer hospital in Houston. They thought that they could not only obliterate the new cancer, but also repair some of the damage that had been done the first time around. There was even a chance that they could implant a valve in his throat that would let him speak again. The experience inspired one of his more memorable blog posts, entitled "Food is Life."

By late 2010, the cancer was gone and Gracey — who hadn't been able to eat solid food since his ordeal began — began looking forward to his next meal. The problem was that the latest round of surgery had left his jaw clenched, and he had to wear a device to stretch it open so that he could actually get something into his mouth. In the midst of it all, Gracey and Kimmie had bought a little house in Aigne, in the Languedoc, and they spent some time there, fixing up the place, walking in the neighboring vineyards, and eating — which in Gracey's case meant mostly soup and occasionally some foie gras, another of his favorite foods, which was smooth enough to ease in and go down.

Then, in January of this year, a routine medical follow-up discovered a spot in Gracey's esophagus. This turned out to be a whole new cancer, unrelated to the last one, and it had already spread. For the next 10 months, Gracey lived at MD Anderson or at the nearby ZaZa Hotel, undergoing unceasing rounds of aggressive chemotherapy. Around this time, it occurred to me to ask him to write something for The Daily Meal about how a food-loving chemotherapy patient nourishes himself. "At the moment I am not eating…," he replied. "However, there is the matter of the blender and liquid foods. I would need to get motivated enough to try to think up things both useful and enticing for a person needing nutrition who is tired of the Ensure route, as I am most surely."

But motivating was impossible; his treatment left him feeling hollowed out. Gracey once described himself as a whiner, but I have never known another person who had so much to whine about legitimately and yet did so little of it, at least in his emails to me. Early in September, he wrote, "Started radiation, it's coupled with a new fancy chemo drug that actually caused the test group to live twice as long, and the damned tumour is shrinking by the day. I can swallow just fine now, all I need to do is pry my jaws open enough to eat… I am greatly encouraged about my health and my direction of treatment. I have two weeks left here then we board Air France for Paris…before we head south on the TGV."