Hope#039;s death has nation in mourning

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 29, 2003

LOS ANGELES (AP) - 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.

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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.''