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Bob Hope Dead at 100


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Legendary comedian and showman Bob Hope (search), who traveled the globe performing for millions of American troops stationed overseas through four wars, has died. He was 100.

He is survived by his wife, Delores Reade Hope, his four children, Linda, Anthony, Honora and William Kelly Francis, and four grandchildren.

Known for his mastery of the one-liner, Hope was a true king of all media who during a career spanning eight decades rose to the top of vaudeville, stage, radio, movies and television.

Best recognized as the star of his own perennial television specials, which ran for decades and earned strong ratings even in his last broadcast in 1996, Hope had largely stayed out of public view in recent years, spending most of his time at his sprawling home in Toluca Lake, Calif.

Born Leslie Townes Hope on May 29, 1903, in Eltham, England, Hope was the fifth of seven sons of William Henry Hope, a stonemason, and Avis Townes Hope, a former Welsh concert singer. When he was four, his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio.

Hope began his historic show business career at the age of 10, when he won a Charlie Chaplin (search) imitation contest. His first stage performance soon followed in a Fatty Arbuckle (search) revue in Cleveland. Arbuckle, then a popular comedian, helped Hope and his partner George Byrne get booked in an act called "Hurly's Jolly Follies."

Hope was soon dancing in The Sidewalks of New York and debuted on Broadway in 1932 in Ballyhoo, which followed with a string of hits over the next four years, including his first substantial role in the musical Roberta. It was at that time he met a singer named Dolores Reade, who would soon become his wife.

But Hope didn't become a bona fide star until he appeared in his first of more than 50 movies, Big Broadcast of 1938, in which he sang the Oscar-winning tune that would become his theme song, "Thanks for the Memory."

In 1940, Hope made The Road to Singapore, the first of seven "Road" flicks with Bing Crosby, in which he created what has been called "a comic persona of transparent bravado, glib repartee and ingratiating mediocrity."

In a string of Paramount pictures — Caught in the Draft (1941), Let's Face It (1943), The Paleface (1948), Fancy Pants (1950) and My Favorite Spy (1951) — he tended to play would-be ladies' men who almost never got the girl.

Hope simultaneously honed his wit on radio. After guesting on Rudy Vallee's Thursday night radio program in 1937, Hope got his own NBC radio show the next year, going on to perform on 1,145 radio programs in 18 years. By 1944 his show was the top-rated program on American radio, competing with the likes of Jack Benny, Fred Allen and Edgar Bergen.

In 1950 he debuted on NBC television, but declined to do a weekly show. Instead, he opted for monthly and semi-monthly specials and a legendary franchise was born. The Bob Hope Special aired more than 300 times and remained a ratings hit through the '90s.

The specials featured musical skits by a bevy of celebrities as well as appearances by athletes, cheerleaders and other bombshells — always following an opening monologue of Hope's quips on the news of the day.

Hope is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the entertainer with the "longest-running contract with a single network." The book also calls him "the world's most decorated and honored man in entertainment."

Hope hewed to the mild side of comedy. "I think a long time before using a joke that's on the borderline of hurting someone," he said in 1975.

But despite his expertise with a joke, Hope's compassionate, humanitarian nature was revealed in his tireless, life-long dedication to entertaining America's servicemen and women. During World War II and the Korean War, Hope became a staple of USO shows, boosting the morale of more than 10 million troops.

"How do you do, fellows? This is Bob — this is Bob 'Command Performance' Hope telling each Nazi that's in Russia today that crime here doesn't pay," Hope joked during World War II.

Between 1948 and 1972 he shepherded 22 star-studded Christmas tours everywhere, from Korea, Vietnam and the Pacific to Greenland, Newfoundland and Alaska. Newsweek described him as "USO's perennial Santa Claus." The shows were filmed beginning in 1954.

Hope was given distinguished service awards from every branch of the armed forces. He also hosted the Academy Awards a record 15 times, beginning in 1960.

In his spare time, Hope was an avid golfer. In his prime, he averaged 15 to 20 celebrity golf benefits a year.

Hope had even died previously, at least virtually. In 1998, he witnessed his own alleged passing when a pre-written Associated Press obituary was released and members of Congress began paying tribute to him on live television. Other media organizations picked up the story before news of the comedian's survival — he was eating breakfast at the time — was revealed.

"When you live to 95, I guess these things can happen," said daughter Linda at the time, noting that the mix-up had occurred before.

In May 2000, Hope attended the opening of the permanent Bob Hope Gallery of American Entertainment in the Library of Congress, funded with a $3.5 million donation from the Hope family for the upkeep of the items and mementos — including 88,000 pages of jokes given to the library by Hope as well as letters, photos, videos and other mementos.

"His career pretty much parallels the history of American entertainment. He excelled in all the mediums," said Library of Congress spokesman Craig D'Ooge. The gallery is "both a history of Bob Hope and a history of American entertainment."

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This is a VERY sad day for me. Bob and I share the same last name. Ever since I was a child, I had people asking if I were related to him so I came to refer to him as Uncle Bob for fun.

Am I related to him? Probably not. I never researched it so if I am it has to be very distantly. I just know I always admired his wit and seldom missed any of his TV specials.

Thanks for the Memories, Uncle Bob. We'll miss you.

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