Over the course of a career that spanned more than 60 years, actor-comedian- humanitarian-noted golf enthusiast, Bob Hope came to be regarded as not only a legendary entertainer, but a veritable American institution. Getting his start on the vaudeville circuit of the late-1920s, he eventually broke through on the Broadway stage in such productions as 1933’s “Roberta” and 1936’s “Red, Hot and Blue.” He began hosting his own long-running radio program on NBC the following year and by 1938 had made the jump to Hollywood. Although he would eventually appear in more than 50 feature films, the funnyman with the ski-slope nose would be most remembered for his wise-cracking antics alongside his perfect foil Bing Crosby and their sarong-clad lust object Dorothy Lamour in “Road to Singapore” (1940) and the successful franchise it spawned. In addition to the seven highly popular “Road to” movies, Hope also proved to be a top box office draw as a solo act in comedies like “The Princess and the Pirate” (1944) and “The Paleface” (1948). Beginning in the early-1940s and continuing well into the 1990s, Hope an ever-present golf club in hand was a welcome comic relief for troops stationed abroad in times of war and peace as he tirelessly toured with the USO during World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars and beyond. By the time the venerable entertainer reached his 100th year, generations of fans could only express their gratitude with a refrain from Hope’s most popular tune, “Thanks for the Memories.”
In 1941, Hope began his lifelong commitment to entertaining U.S. troops when he performed for soldiers stationed at California’s March Field. By 1943, he was traveling with a USO troupe, performing for Allied soldiers throughout war zones in Europe and the South Pacific, often risking his life in the process. In 1948, he entertained military personnel stationed in Berlin for the first time. It was a yearly tradition he continued for nearly three more decades. Hope’s dedication to the troops continued through the wars in Korea and Vietnam, even extending to the Gulf War more than 40 years later. Dubbed “America’s No. 1 Soldier in Greasepaint” by the media, Hope held personal relationships with every Commander in Chief from FDR to Bill Clinton, had both a Navy ship and Air Force plane named after him, and was later named the first Honorary Veteran in a act of Congress. An avid golfer since being introduced to the sport in the 1930s, Hope’s ever-present golf club carried like a walking stick became the iconic image of all of his USO performances.
At the spry age of 82 and after appearing in more than 50 feature films, Hope delivered one more cameo in, “Spies Like Us” (1985), a globe-trotting comedy starring Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd that owed much to Hope and Crosby’s “Road” movies. Following the airing of his final television special, “Bob Hope . . . Laughing with the Presidents” (NBC, 1996), he formally and amicably ended his association with NBC, one that had lasted for nearly 50 years, declaring himself “a free agent” with his usual optimistic good humor. In his twilight years, Hope continued to enjoy his greatest passion outside of longtime wife Dolores Hope the game of golf. One of the country’s biggest proponents of the sport which he waxed poetic about in Confessions of a Hooker: My lifelong Love Affair with Golf, just one of his 16 published books the Bob Hope Desert Classic, held yearly in Palm Springs, became a staple on the Pro Am circuit.
Hope’s interest in sports, however, was not limited to golf. For a time he held a portion of ownership in both the Los Angeles Rams and San Diego Chargers NFL franchises. Never forgetting his hometown, he was also a co-owner of his beloved professional baseball team, the Cleveland Indians. Long considered one of Hollywood’s richest performers, his investments and holdings in oil, real estate and dozens of other business ventures led to an estimated net worth of as much as $500 million. Wealthy as he was, Hope was also revered as one of entertainment’s greatest philanthropists, raising millions of dollars for charities via the Desert Classic and acting as honorary chairman for the non-profit group, Fight for Sight. Cited by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most honored entertainer of all time, the more than 2,000 accolades Hope received during his lifetime included a Kennedy Center Award, the Medal of Merit, a Congressional Medal, and the Distinguished Public Service Medal of the U.S. Department of Defense, the highest award the military can bestow upon a civilian. The U.K.-born Hope was knighted by the Queen of England in 1998 and appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory by Pope John Paul II that same year. The fact that Hope was given four stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in film, television, radio and theater came as no surprise.
With his eyesight having deteriorated to the point that he could no longer read cue cards during a performance, Hope made few public appearances after the turn of the century. In 2000, he was admitted to the hospital for gastrointestinal bleeding and again in 2001 to recuperate from pneumonia. But despite two separate prematurely released obituaries in the years just preceding it, Hope celebrated his 100th birthday in May 2003. Although too frail to make an appearance for a public celebration, the comedian was reportedly overwhelmed by the outpouring of affection that came in from all corners of the globe. Two months later, Hope died quietly from complications due to pneumonia at his home in Toluca Lake, CA on the evening of July 23, 2003. With his wife of nearly 70 years by his side, Hope’s death brought to a close one of the town’s happiest marriages, but more importantly, one of Hollywood’s greatest success stories, with the comic having excelled in every genre and been the object of affection generation after generation.