LOS ANGELES – Bob Hope, ski-nosed master of the one-liner and favorite comedian of servicemen and presidents alike, has died, less than two months after turning 100.
Hope died late Sunday of pneumonia, his longtime publicist Ward Grant said Monday. Hope's family was at his bedside at his home in Toluca Lake.
The nation's most-honored comedian, a millionaire many times over, was a star in every category open to him — vaudeville, radio, television and film, most notably a string of "Road" movies with longtime friend Bing Crosby. For decades, he took his show on the road to bases around the world, boosting the morale of servicemen from World War II to the Gulf War.
He perfected the one-liner, peppering audiences with a fusillade of brief, topical gags.
"I bumped into Gerald Ford the other day. I said, 'Pardon me.' He said, 'I don't do that anymore.'"
He poked fun gently, without malice, and made himself the butt of many jokes. His golf scores and physical attributes, including his celebrated ski-jump nose, were frequent subjects:
"I want to tell you, I was built like an athlete once – big chest, hard stomach. Of course, that's all behind me now."
When Hope went into one of his monologues, it was almost as though the world was conditioned to respond. No matter that the joke was old or flat; he was Bob Hope and he got laughs.
"Audiences are my best friends," he liked to say. "You never tire of talking with your best friends."
He was admired by his peers, and generations of younger comedians. Woody Allen called Hope "the most influential comedian for me."
Hope earned a fortune, gave lavishly to charity and was showered with awards, so many that he had to rent a warehouse to store them.
Through he said he was afraid of flying, Hope traveled countless miles to entertain servicemen in field hospitals, jungles and aircraft carriers from France to Berlin to Vietnam to the Persian Gulf. His Christmas tours became tradition.
He headlined in so many war zones that he had a standard joke for the times he was interrupted by gunfire: "I wonder which one of my pictures they saw?"
So often was Hope away entertaining, and so little did he see his wife, Dolores, and their four adopted children, that he once remarked, "When I get home these days, my kids think I've been booked on a personal appearance tour."
Hope had a reputation as an ad-libber, but he kept a stable of writers and had filing cabinets full of jokes. He never let a good joke die – if it got a laugh in Vietnam, it would get a laugh in Saudi Arabia.
On his 100th birthday, he was too frail to take part in public celebrations, but was said to be alert and happy — and overwhelmed by the outpouring of affection. The fabled intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street was renamed Bob Hope Square, and President Bush established the Bob Hope American Patriot Award.
"He can't believe that this is happening and that he's made it to his Big 100," son Kelly Hope said at the time.
He was born Leslie Townes Hope on May 29, 1903, in Eltham, England, the fifth of seven sons of a British stonemason and a Welsh singer of light opera. The Hopes emigrated to the United States when he was 4 and settled in Cleveland. They found themselves in the backwash of the 1907 depression.
The boy helped out by selling newspapers and working in a shoe store, a drug store and a meat market. He also worked as a caddy and developed a lifelong fondness for golf. A highly competitive golfer, he later shot in the 70s and sponsored the Bob Hope Golf Classic, one of the nation's biggest tournaments.
Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press