Bob Hope dies at 100

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Funnyman Bob Hope, 100, arguably the most recognizable entertainer of his
generation -- Bing Crosby would have said it was the nose -- and radio and TV’s
most enduring star, died of pneumonia Sunday at his home in Toluca Lake, Calif.

Born Leslie Townes Hope May 29, 1903, in Kent, England, Hope grew up in
Cleveland, where legend has it that he won prizes for his imitations of Charlie
Chaplin, another British import, and sang on the "streetcar" circuit for his
fares.

He changed his name to Lester, some say after one too many cracks about
"Leslie." If that was the reason, he also learned to defend himself and his
name, fighting briefly under the ring name Packy East. Somewhere along the way,
however, he tired of Les Hope, or nicknames like "Hope-less," and became Bob.

After stints as a butcher, a prizefighter and several other colorful
occupations, Hope became a vaudeville hoofer and later starred on Broadway.

He made a few guest radio appearances beginning in 1935. His first starring
turn on the dial, The Pepsodent Show Starring Bob Hope, debuted Sept. 27,
1938, on the NBC Red network, beginning a 60-plus-year association with NBC.
Hope's radio shows were at or near the top of the then-Hooper ratings throughout
the 1940s.

He made the transition to TV in the 1950s. Throughout the decade, Hope emceed
Colgate Comedy Hour, All Star Revue and various other comedy
shows, as well as his own Bob Hope Show, all on NBC.

He also hosted an hour dramatic anthology series for the network in 1963-67.

But Hope was probably best known on TV for his seemingly endless parade of
specials, guest appearances on other shows and his longtime hosting of the
Academy Awards.

Many baby boomers fondly recall his salutes to the year's top college-football players, in which a procession of Billy Simmses and Randy Whites played
often engagingly inept straight men to the comedian.

Somehow, Hope also found time to make movies -- after the umpteenth "road"
picture, he quipped that next, they were starting on "the alleys" -- as well as
concert appearances.

He also conducted a parallel career as a one-man USO, selling war bonds and
traveling millions of miles to entertain the troops from the Pacific to the
Persian Gulf.

But his aid was not limited to the troops. In 1972, for instance, following
Hurricane Agnes, Hope hosted and produced a telethon, teaming up with local TV
stations to create an ad hoc Red Cross Network that raised more than $2 million in
only six hours.

Hope was in the National Association of Broadcasters’ inaugural class when it
created its Radio Hall of Fame in 1977. He was also in the first rank to be
named to Broadcasting & Cable's Hall of Fame in 1981.

Upon receiving the NAB's distinguished service award during the opening of
the 1963 NAB convention in Chicago, Hope accepted it with some vintage material,
including:

  • "I know that this is the highest award in broadcasting, and I realize the
    importance of it, but I feel that if you were really serious, you would have
    given it to me in prime time."
  • "Newton Minow [then Federal Communications Commission chairman] is a man of high ideals whose needling,
    prodding and constructive suggestions have led our great industry up the path
    to The Beverly Hillbillies. That's all we needed --outhouses in the vast
    wasteland."

Then Hope turned serious: "You are responsible for the most amazing
instrument of mass communication known to man, a 21-inch looking glass that
shows the world in full length. Just spin the dial -- instant history."

Broadcast and cable networks appeared ready with some instant history of
their own. Tributes blanketed the airwaves almost as soon as the news broke
Monday, and more were planned for Monday night.

"Today, America lost a great citizen," President Bush said Monday.

Hope won a warehouse full of humanitarian accolades, honorary degrees and
industry awards, the latter including a Peabody and an Emmy Award. He is survived by
his wife of 70 years, Dolores, and four children: Linda, Tony, Nora and
Kelly.

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