R.W. Apple Jr., the longtime New York Times correspondent who charted the fall of Richard Nixon and covered wars from Vietnam to the Persian Gulf while having a parallel career as a food and travel writer, died Wednesday. He was 71.

Apple died in Washington after a long bout with thoracic cancer, the newspaper said.

His last words to Times readers came in a piece in last Sunday's paper about food and travel destinations in Singapore.

"He was himself to the last," New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller said in a statement to the staff.

"From his sickbed he hammered out his last words to readers ... negotiated details of the menu and music for his memorial service, followed the baseball playoffs and the latest congressional scandal with relish," Keller said.

Apple joined the Times in 1963 after working for The Wall Street Journal and NBC News. He was national political correspondent from 1970 to 1976.

He covered the Vietnam and Persian Gulf Wars, the Iranian revolution and the collapse of Eastern Bloc governments.

He also extensively chronicled the Watergate scandal.

"It was a tragedy in three acts," Apple wrote in the lead of his story about Nixon's resignation in August 1974.

"In 1972, Richard M. Nixon — a man who had often failed, who had been derided by the fashionable and the intellectual, who had made and remade himself into a winner — arrived at the pinnacle of his career," he wrote. "In 1973, he found himself besieged by his enemies, forced onto the defense. And in 1974, he fell from power, humiliated as no predecessor has ever been."

In 1992, as the first President Bush was unsuccessfully seeking his second term, Apple wrote: "But the brakes of history seem to be working against Mr. Bush and his party. ... The end of the cold war has robbed the president's party of one of its mightiest swords."

His epicurean side was evident in his many lighter pieces. Known as "Johnny," Apple traveled the world in his parallel career as a food and travel writer, writing about everything from hot dogs in Chicago to bacon in Wisconsin.

"Vidalias are to run-of-the-mill onions as foie gras is to chopped liver," he wrote in a 1998 feature.

Checking out hot dogs in Chicago, he wrote in 2004: "No place else this side of Frankfurt has a frankfurter stand every three or four blocks, as Chicago does. And no other place anywhere has a catechism of condiments as rigorously defined as Chicago's. ... And no ketchup, please. Ever."

Drawing on his endless travel experience, often in out-of-the-way places where a multitude of problems might arise, he wrote a piece on "The Art of Packing" for the Times in 1985.

Among the rules: no synthetic fabrics "because they are clammy in cold weather, sticky in hot." And along with packing a miniature tool kit and the small guidebooks, he cited a pepper mill, because "it's amazing what a few turns of the machine will do for a meal prepared by the culinary wizards employed by the Iraqi Army."

He is survived by his wife Betsey, his longtime travel companion who was a fixture in his many first-person articles.