LOS ANGELES – People the world over may have lowered their smiles to half-staff, but they were still smiling.
There was sadness across several generations over Bob Hope’s death at age 100, but the grief was overpowered by cheerful memories and gratitude as presidents, Hollywood stars and everyday folks recalled his remarkable longevity and legendary wisecracks.
“A gifted comedian who entertained audiences for decades with his unique talents, Bob Hope brought joy and laughter to our nation,” President Bush said Monday in a special proclamation. It decreed that flags be flown at half-staff on the day of Hope’s private interment, tentatively scheduled for Wednesday. The family also planned an Aug. 27 Mass and memorial tribute, which would be open to the public.
The legendary comedian, who died Sunday night of pneumonia, might have been happier to be remembered with a chuckle instead of a tear. “A sense of humor is good for you,” he once joked. “Have you ever heard of a laughing hyena with heart burn?”
“I think that’s what Bob gave us. He made you feel good. Every time he entertained you felt good,” said “I Dream of Jeannie” TV star Barbara Eden, who accompanied Hope on a 1990s trip to entertain troops during the Gulf War.
Her favorite memory: Hope hitting golf balls into the Persian Gulf off the back of an aircraft carrier.
“You remember Bob with a smile,” Eden said, “but, boy, I’m going to miss him.”
As an actor, Hope could adjust his chipper “How-ya-doin’?” personality in such a way as to become a coward, a smart-aleck, a wheeler-dealer or an awkward womanizer. But all of his characters had one thing in common: they were likable.
“He was sort of everything I thought he would be: So dear and sweet, kind, lovable. He was a very attractive kind of man. I think any fellow who has a sense of humor is very attractive,” said Eva Marie Saint, who costarred with Hope in 1956’s “That Certain Feeling” and 1972’s “Cancel My Reservation.”
Many said he was a one-of-a-kind showman whose legacy as a stage, movie, radio and television star will never be repeated. Few performers nowadays cross over between more than two mediums.
“The Tonight Show” host Jay Leno said Hope’s TV standup routines established a model that everyone else followed. “His monologues — which were always so topical — had an enormous influence on me,” Leno said. “We are all blessed to have him as our standard-bearer.”
Praise for Hope came from all over the globe.
In England, where Hope was born and lived before his family moved to the United States when he was 4, Buckingham Palace said Queen Elizabeth II was sending a message of condolence to the late entertainer’s family.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell called Hope “a friend to every American GI for over 50 years.”
“I watched him perform in Vietnam in 1968 and became his friend in later years, to include even doing a skit with him on stage,” Powell recalled Monday.
From the Great Depression, through World War II, the Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War and Gulf War, Hope kept audiences looking on the bright side.
Steve Collins, an Army helicopter pilot who served in Vietnam, met the comedian when he ferried troops to one of Hope’s 1968 Christmas shows.
“You knew where the guy’s heart was. He really felt for us,” said Collins, 56, of San Diego.
News of Hope’s death filled the TV networks with tributes dominated by renditions of his signature song, “Thanks for the Memory,” footage of him parading onstage at rallies for the troops and clips of his famous “Road” movies with Bing Crosby.
Turner Classic Movies changed its schedule to show five Hope films on Thursday — “The Road to Hong Kong” (1962),”A Global Affair” (1964), “Call Me Bwana” (1963), “I’ll Take Sweden” (1965) and “Bachelor In Paradise” (1961).
Although slowed by age in recent years, Hope had a savage wit in his heyday, recalled longtime friend Phyllis Diller, who often played his comic foil.
Her favorite memories? “Him teasing me and making terrible cracks about me. Those are the ones that I treasure,” she said. “I remember him for the laughs.”
Hope’s family said he died peacefully at his suburban Toluca Lake home where he had lived since 1939.
“He really left us with a smile on his face and no last words,” daughter Linda Hope said. “He gave us each a kiss and that was it.”