On his deathbed, they say Bob Hope
was still cracking jokes. When asked where he wanted to be
buried, he quipped, "Surprise me."
He lived for a century, and no one
over the age of 35 can think of him without cracking a smile. His self-deprecating humor truly was funny. From Vaudeville to
radio, from movies to television, this genuinely good and decent
man sang, danced, acted and joked his way through a career that
lasted longer than the average person lives.
Born in Great Britain in 1903, Bob
Hope conquered virtually every aspect of the entertainment
industry with gusto and humility. For three generations of
military personnel, from World War II to the 1990-91 Persian
Gulf conflict, he made us laugh.
His fellow entertainers remember
him being the same man off stage as he was on. He seemed to
exude a great deal of that which his name implied. Not to unduly
canonize the man, but try to recall another such selfless
individual in the business of entertainment.
So what was his secret? Did he
live in exceptional times? Or was he just an exceptional talent? Or was it something else?
What did Bob Hope bring to his
craft that was so special? I think it was an appreciation for
the great blessing he had received and a love for the country
that gave him such opportunity. He could have retired at any
point along that long trail of GIs he entertained. A star and a
rich man many times over, he seemed to understand the Biblical
principle of sowing and reaping, and he could always be counted
upon to give more than he could ever possibly receive.
Bob Hope's service to America's
military personnel was legendary, and I believe it was service
to them that drove him to all those foreign battlefields. How
many men saw one of his shows just before going into combat for
the last time? A friend to more than a few presidents, he always
said that when he entertained the troops, he was not necessarily
pro-Republican or pro-Democrat, but rather he was simply pro-GI. He didn't have to tell that to the GIs in the field. They knew
He approached the craft of comedy
in a way that is rare today. He didn't have to resort to
insulting others or demeaning his audience with filthy language. He was able to convey a great sense of humor without the shock
value that so frequently makes up the repertoire of many of
I have no way of gauging Bob
Hope's spiritual condition, but the day after his death, I
attended a luncheon for a local service club. At the end of the
invocation, the minister prayed, "And Lord, we hope you enjoy
Bob Hope as much as we did."
Now, that is a fitting epitaph for
a life well lived.