- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2003

Comedy legend Bob Hope, an American icon who traveled around the world entertaining troops and boosting their morale, died Sunday night at his home in California, just a few months after the world lauded him on his 100th birthday.

“Today, America lost a great citizen,” President Bush said. “Bob Hope made us laugh, and he lifted our spirits. Bob Hope served our nation when he went to battlefields to entertain thousands of troops from different generations.”

Mr. Bush ordered flags to be flown at half-staff or half-mast on all federal buildings, naval vessels and U.S. posts around the world on the day of his burial, tentatively scheduled for tomorrow.

The world’s most honored entertainer, according to the Guinness Book of Records, Mr. Hope had a 75-year career that covered all genres of entertainment, including vaudeville — where he started out — radio, Broadway, television and movies.

And for nearly six decades, he traveled from Europe to the South Pacific, making American troops laugh. His Christmas shows in particular became legendary.

“Probably the most you would look forward to other than going home, was seeing Bob Hope perform,” said Ronald F. Conley, who saw one of Mr. Hope’s Christmas shows while stationed in Guam in 1965 as a 23-year-old Air Force airman during the Vietnam War. “Not only did it bring a feeling of home to you, but it gave you an opportunity to take your mind off things and be able to kick back and laugh.”

Mr. Conley, who is the National Commander of the American Legion, said Mr. Hope’s military shows also connected troops with their families, because many of them were broadcast back home. Mr. Conley’s wife recognized her husband during the 1965 show and excitedly wrote him a letter about it.

“He actually gave you hope that what you were doing was right,” Mr. Conley said. “You were serving your country, and that made you feel good.”

After yesterday’s public announcement of Mr. Hope’s death, presidential families and Hollywood icons alike lined up to bid farewell to the funnyman and to thank him for the memories.

Former first lady Nancy Reagan said in a statement yesterday that she and former President Ronald Reagan considered Mr. Hope “one of our dearest friends for over sixty years” and that his death is “like losing a member of the family.”

She said Mr. Reagan “always said that Bob was one of our finest ambassadors for America and for freedom” as he traveled for the troops.

“His unmatched patriotism, energy, integrity and spirit of good will have contributed greatly to the public spirit in the United States,” Mrs. Reagan said.

Mr. Hope died of pneumonia at his Toluca Lake home Sunday, with his family by his side, including his wife of 69 years, Dolores. The Hopes have four adopted children and four grandchildren.

The funnyman was born Leslie Townes Hope in Eltham, Britain, on May 29, 1903, but the family moved to Cleveland when he was a child.

Mr. Hope turned to show business as a young man, starting out with a song-and-dance routine but quickly moving to comedy.

He reached the vaudeville pinnacle, the Palace, by 1930 and held leading roles in Broadway musicals such as “Roberta” and “Red Hot and Blue.” He then broke into radio before moving to Hollywood — where he starred in more than 50 films and had cameos in 15 more, the last being “Spies Like Us” in 1985.

His more than 60-year contract with NBC earned him another Guinness record for longest running contract with a single network.

In his 1938 film “The Big Broadcast,” he introduced the song that became his trademark: “Thanks for the Memory.” He made his first formal television debut Easter Sunday 1950 with his “Star Spangled Revue” special.

Through the years, he teamed up on stage or screen with other legends from Hollywood’s Golden Age — people such as Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour, Jack Benny and George Burns.

Starting with a 1941 show for airmen stationed in California, Mr. Hope logged 6 million miles entertaining troops at home and abroad, including during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, making his final tour during the Gulf War in 1990 at the age of 87.

The Web site for the U.S. Defense Department displayed a banner headline yesterday reading “Farewell to a Friend,” alongside a picture of Mr. Hope, posing with troops in Womsan, Korea, in Oct. 1950.

Among his 2,000 awards and honors, Congress declared Mr. Hope an honorary veteran in 1997, making him the first person in U.S. history honored in such a way. Other awards include the U.S. Medal of Honor and a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II. The U.S. Navy named a new class of warship after the entertainer in 1997, starting with USNS Bob Hope. The Air Force followed suit, naming the new C-17 plane “The Spirit of Bob Hope.”

“There are just some people who come along once in a while, who can pull together the threads of a culture better than anyone else, and he was one of them,” said Michael Marsden — founder and co-editor of the Journal of Popular Film and Television, and one of the founders of the Popular Culture Department at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. “He taught us about our foibles, our dreams, our quirks … the good, the bad and ugly about who we are as a people.”

Mr. Marsden said Mr. Hope was “probably the most trusted man in American history” because he “used humor to humanize.”

A longtime friend and golfing buddy of many U.S. presidents, Mr. Hope published a collection of presidential humor in 1996, and that same year, NBC aired his last television special, “Bob Hope Laughing With the Presidents,” featuring appearances by the Clintons, the Bushes, Julie Nixon and David Eisenhower.

Former President Gerald R. Ford said in a statement that “GIs around the world have been grateful for his untiring devotion.”

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, a former Army general, was among those who watched Mr. Hope perform overseas.

“I watched him perform in Vietnam in 1968 and became his friend in later years, to include even doing a skit with him onstage,” Mr. Powell said in a statement. “There was no one who served his nation more faithfully and with greater dedication in both war and peace.”

Another Hollywood legend, Mickey Rooney, said his longtime friend and talented comedian, actor, singer, dancer, humanitarian and golfer would “be remembered as not only a great, great all-around gentleman, but a wonderful, wonderful, caring, beautiful, lovely man. God bless him and his family.”

Jay Leno, host of “The Tonight Show” said Mr. Hope was a jokester “who made the entire world his stage.”

Through the years, Mr. Hope presented the Oscars numerous times and would joke that he never got one himself, saying, “Oscar night at my house is called Passover.” But the body that organizes the Oscars, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, honored him five times — with two honorary Oscars, two special awards and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

“Maybe Bob never won a competitive Oscar, but he won the hearts of the members of the Academy … and the hundreds of millions who watched the Academy Awards presentations,” said Frank Pierson, head of the Academy.

“America has lost its court jester, and the Academy has lost a great friend who played a major role in the history of the organization,” Mr. Pierson said. “We thank you, Bob, for much more than memories.”

This story is based in part on wire service reports.


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