1927 ~ 2021
Holladay, UT—Goldon Delicious, The Mellifluous Pied Piper of Frivolence, has signed off.
On Friday, May 14, our dear friend Donald Packard passed away at 94. Though his life feels hard to encapsulate in words, he was among other things, a talented dancer, actor, writer, musician, entrepreneur, radio star, yard sale aficionado, and most of all, storyteller.
He was born in 1927 in Brooklyn, New York to Irving Dutchkin and Minnie Freedman, both immigrants from Eastern Europe. Though he described his upbringing as dysfunctional, he did find early success on the stage by taking up tap dancing lessons as a young teenager. He and his partner, Alma Hammer, won a national competition on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour Radio show, the predecessor to the Ted Mack Amateur Hour. They went on to tour the Catskills resorts, entertaining guests with their quick feet.
Donald joined the Navy at 17 and became a radioman in the Pacific during WWII. He claimed to have been relieved of his duties in Okinawa because he couldn't master morse code (among other things.) After serving in the war, he made creative use of the GI bill and parlayed it into an 16-year college stint. He somewhat proudly claimed to have flunked every class he ever took. His academic record became an obstacle at a post-war college recruiting event until he heard that one recruiter didn't ask about your GPA. Despite having no apparent interest in God, he skipped the line and was accepted into a South Dakota divinity school. Imagine their surprise when Donald arrived. He later attended the University of Utah.
Donald's love for the spotlight continued throughout his life. In the late 40s, he toured with the musical group, The Blue Barron, as a saxophone player. When the band realized he technically didn't know how to play the saxophone, the gig was up. He lived for a time in Greenwich Village and dated the photographer Diane Arbus. During his Hollywood years, he spent time caring for an aging Rudy Vallée and claimed to have lived in Arnold Schwarzenegger's guest house. Donald also worked as a celebrity impersonator, often playing the role of Harpo Marx. He reprised his role as a radio star during the 1980s, when he graced the airwaves of the Salt Lake Valley as "Goldon Delicious.' His completely improvised call-in program proudly claimed to "romance you into the no man's land of insignificance and insouciance." His irreverent tone occasionally upset the more conservative members of his audience and he was fired more than once. Thanks to his supporters, he somehow always found his way back on the air. A dedicated fan recorded his shows and they are still available on the internet. But perhaps his most famous role was in the 1990 cult classic, Troll 2, a film described as the "best worst movie ever made." He played the role of the lurking shopkeeper, who generously offered town visitors a bottle of Nilbog milk. (Nilbog is goblin spelled backwards.) Donald claims to have gone straight from the psychiatric hospital to the movie set. He said he didn't know what he was doing, and he wasn't acting.
Donald's creativity and generosity extended far beyond his fictional roles. He was a frequent patron of garage sales throughout the Salt Lake Valley, where he sought out good conversation and any merchandise priced below $10. His favorite purchases, often stuffed animals, were usually given as gifts to his friends. Others ended up hanging in his trees. He was a talented writer, a scrupulous editor, and to the chagrin of his technical assistants--a fiercely loyal user of QuarkXpress. If he ever had trouble finding a suitable word in the dictionary, he made one up himself. He was a problem solver, a perceptive listener and an insightful giver of advice. He had the uncanny ability to quickly put things into perspective and loved the absurd. Until the very end, he could command a room with his razor sharp sarcasm and quick wit. Most importantly, he didn't take himself too seriously. Unless it was his hair. That mattered.
In the end, Donald was cared for by a close group of friends who helped him live independently with his kitty for as long as possible. Many thanks to the doctors, nurses, and staff at Holladay Healthcare and Canyon Hospice for their tenderness toward Donald when the time for more intensive care came. He frequently expressed gratitude and disbelief at the many kind acts performed in his favor.
Donald is preceded in death by his parents and his brother Melvyn, and is survived by his sister Beverly Kirshblum.
Donald endured a lifelong struggle with mental illness. Should you wish to honor his life, please consider making a donation to an organization that helps those with similar struggles. If you have memories about Donald, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Rest easy dear friend, we love and miss you.
Published in The Salt Lake Tribune from Jun. 10 to Jun. 14, 2021.