Real people are proof you can#8217;t judge book by cover

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 8, 2008

I carry a coin that denotes “graduation” from the Betty Ford Center.

That probably won’t come as a surprise to my friends, but I wasn’t the person who earned it.

It was given to me as a memento by Chris Mitchum, son of the late Robert Mitchum.

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Bob was a friend of mine, and Chris knew that I would appreciate the irony of the coin.

It seems that on the way home from Betty Ford, Bob attempted to buy a drink with that coin.

Oh well, you can’t have a 100 percent success rate.

It was typical of the man’s sense of humor.

He went to dry out as a favor to his wife Dorothy, but I can tell you this as gospel. … Sinatra may have sung “My Way” but no one lived it like Bob.

Chris told me that the night he died, he got out of bed, poured three fingers of tequila, smoked a Pall Mall, went back to bed and never woke up.

He even died his way.

Never mind the boring story of how we became pals, but I can tell you that the one thing he appreciated was loyalty.

There was a “friend” of his who sold a story about him once to the National Enquirer, and the next time Bob saw him the guy stuck out his hand to shake hands.

Bob broke his jaw.

He was 72 at the time.

I used to send him moonshine that is still made in our area, and the artisan put two peaches in every quart to mellow the ’shine and give it a nice flavor.

Well, I would send this stuff to him via UPS, and I once asked him if we were going to get into trouble shipping this jet fuel as it was no doubt an extremely hazardous material.

In that very distinctive voice he retorted, “Where’s the law that says you can’t ship marinated fruit?”

Made sense to me.

He tripped over a family member’s dog one Christmas while imbibing the “peach,” and swore that the dog laughed.

His wife Dorothy wasn’t very happy with me over that.

Bob was about 75 at the time and broke a couple of ribs.

He died a couple of weeks shy of his 80th birthday.

I spoke with him that very week.

“Well, I’d better go,” he said, “I hear the buzzards circling.”

Some months after he died I got a phone call from the BBC.

They were doing a documentary on Bob, and the family suggested that I be in it.

They flew me to L.A. and I did my bit along with his brother John, son Chris, Polly Bergen, Sidney Pollack and others. I was the only “civilian” or non show biz person in the group.

I thought that was quite an honor.

Brother John and I became so close that he flew to Ironton with wife Bonnie for my wedding.

Another honor.

I think of Bob often.


I want to tell you something about one of Hollywood’s toughest guys that if he knew I told it he would probably break my jaw.

This hard drinking, brawler man’s man wrote poetry.

A very complicated guy.

Yet beneath that he-man image was a truly sensitive, caring soul.

And a damned loyal friend.

Butch Huff is a contributing columnist to The Ironton Tribune.