by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
July 28, 2003
1903 - 2003
BRADENTON, Fla., July 28, 2003 -- Bob Hope, whose century of life was a long string of wisecracks and a longer string of friends high and low, passed away last night in Toluca Lake, Calif., his legacy of gales of laughter and good memories likely to linger a century more.
"Topday America lost a great xitizen,. We mourn the passing of Bob Hope," President George W. Bush said on Air Force One this morning. "We mourn the loss of a good man. May God bless his soul."
"It's a very sad moment, but it's something that brings back all the memories he lived for. If he was listening, he'd want people to be laughing," said his longtime friend and fellow golfer, Arnold Palmer, in Rancho Mirage, Calif., where a major artery - Bob Hope Drive - and a major golf event, the Bob Hope Desert Pro-Am Classic, is named after the comedian.
"He passed peacefully, with his wife at his side," said Hope's granddaughter, Miranda Hope on CNN this morning. Hope's wife, Dolores Hope, is a former entertainer with a lifelong role in Hope's globe-trotting career.
At the end of a life that was mostly spent on stage, Hope bowed out with more than 1,500 honors, 50 honorary doctorates and four Oscars. Born Leslie Townes Hope in Eltham, England, he moved to the United States when he was three, and even as a child wanted to go onstage - and also box. He changed his name to Bob at the age of 21 to better connect with his audience. His life spanned every form of media from vaudeville to the Internet, and he didn't give up boxing until his career took off. He could have had a career in golf.
"He was able to take a small thing and turn it around," said a man who identified himself to CNN as Gene Perret, who wrote for Hope for 40 years. "He would turn it around and make it funny." The man turned out to be an impersonator from the Howard Stern Show, who made an off-color comment and was yanked off the air. Hope would have loved it.
"He hit the ball very well until he couldn't play anymore," Palmer said, recalling a match in Phoenix in 1961 where the comedian kept him from walking off the course when it started to snow and then watching Hope shoot a 35 on the back nine.. "His life was dedicated to doing what he did, which was make people laugh. ... Right up until the end, he never stopped entertaining."
"I played golf with President Ford many times," Hope once said, "and I feel very fortunate. I'm one of the survivors."
This reporter had the privilege of watching Hope live at the Rose Parade in 1968 and again on what was planned to be his last live appearance in a war zone, at Clark Air Force Base, where he performed for troops and exhausted POWs who has just left tcaptivity in Vietnam. His first appearance was at March Field in the California desert on May 6, 1941. Hope appeared in Vietnam nine times.
In Beirut, again visiting troops, he quipped, "I saw some people calmly eating lunch in an outdoor café. Thirty seconds before it was an indoor café."
Trembling slightly with age - he was near 70 at the time - he met with the press in a tent before the show, Hope's mental acuity never faltered. As it turned out, he was to appear live for troops again at yet another war, the Persian Gulf conflict of 1991.
Hope even had the wry pleasure of hearing his obituary prematurely, when the new Internet news site of ABCNews.com mistakenly reported his death in 1995.
Asked by Larry King a few years ago if he would ever quit performing, his response was typical: "No way," he said. "No way."
Thanks for the memories, sir.