Bill Ervolino: Fidel Castro, His Many Deaths and Resurrections

This picture released by Cubadebate on its website early Monday Oct. 22, 2012 shows Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Habana, Cuba,  Sunday Oct. 21, 2012.

This picture released by Cubadebate on its website early Monday Oct. 22, 2012 shows Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Habana, Cuba, Sunday Oct. 21, 2012.  (AP2012)

As Chevy Chase reported -- relentlessly -- during Season One of “Saturday Night Live,” Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

Malisimo Fidel Castro? Not so much.

So...how is this possible?

 In the early 1950s, the Biran, Cuba-born Castro traversed the countryside calling for revolution with the words “liberty or death.” But, if history has taught us anything, it’s that the 86-year-old Cuban leader believes in neither.

Two weeks ago, as mourners gathered near his Punto Cero estate, just south of Alameda de Siboney, the absent -- but never late -- Castro was...

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Oh, who knows where he was this time? Probably out by the pool, reading the Havana Times and listening to the original cast recording of “Camelot” on his iPod.

Perhaps, he even sang along with Robert Goulet.

“No, never could I leave you...at all.”

Elvis Presley, another fine singer, left the building in 1977. Fidel leaves the building sporadically, amid flurries of reports that he is dead or near death. Then, somehow, he climbs back in through a half-opened window.

These last-minute Houdini-like escapes have been going on for years. But this month’s reports of Castro’s imminent demise were particularly provocative, since they coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis.

One of the major confrontations of the Cold War, it is now remembered as THE white knuckle standoff between American President John F. Kennedy (another “Camelot” fan) and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev (who was more of a “Hello, Dolly!” kinda guy) with Castro somewhere in the middle.

Un sandwich cubano, so to speak.

At the time, in a letter to Khrushchev, Castro had called upon his Soviet allies to wipe the United States off the face of earth.

And, at least at first, Khrushchev appeared steadfast. But, as his son Sergei has since made public, the premier’s response, shouted at a tense leadership meeting, was “This is insane! Fidel wants to drag us into the grave with him!”

The grave? Yeah.

As if.

According to a New York Times story published last week, in the midst of the ensuing missile-crisis madness, Castro remained calm “as he composed his last will and testament for the 6.5 millions citizens of Cuba and the 43,000 Russians on the island who would be incinerated alongside them.”

But, there were no incinerations. And, no readings of the Cuban communist leader’s will -- which we’ll presume bequeathed the same amount to everyone.

Kennedy died one year after the missile crisis in 1963. Khrushchev, who lived to be 77, died of a heart attack in 1977. Castro, meanwhile, was just getting started -- to the chagrin of his enemies, exiled Cubans everywhere, and more than a few relatives.

 And it’s all rather amazing when you consider Castro’s years as a revolutionary, the numerous assassination attempts, bouts of crushing illness, a lifetime of cigar smoking and two tense confrontations with Barbara Walters.

But nothing -- the fall of the Soviet Union, included -- seems to shake, rattle or exterminate el ex-presidente who seems intent on being the last commie standing.

In 2006, Fabian Escalante, a onetime bodyguard for Castro, said that, to his knowledge, there had been over 600 attempts on Castro’s life. And he reportedly mentions them all in a documentary made that year for Britain’s Channel 4 entitled “638 Ways to Kill Castro.”

(Apparently, a few of those ways don’t require too much explanation  since the movie, now on DVD, runs only 78 minutes.)

These myriad plots and plans include the now-legendary CIA plot to present Castro with an exploding cigar. (Oh, Bullwinkle, that trick never works.)  And the plot to -- Are you sitting down? -- place explosives in the shells of mollusks where Castro was known to go skindiving.

Stuffed shells? Were they kidding?

This isn’t Berlusconi we’re talking about.

In the 1950s, Castro survived numerous bomb attacks, one of which was reportedly masterminded by -- shades of “The Godfather, Part II” -- his brother, Raul. And, as the new century began, stories of Castro’s imminent death, spurred by his advanced age and rumors of his failing health, routinely made the rounds -- to no avail.

Like Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction,” Castro kept opening his bloodshot eyes and springing back to life.

Cancer? Gastro-intestinal woes? All those funny little black things on his face?

No problema.

Two weeks ago, after news organizations reported that Castro had suffered a massive stroke and was in a vegetative state, guess who de-vegetated and denied, denied, denied?

Castro lives on, like Chevy Chase’s Franco jokes. And like the tales of another “SNL” subject, the Russian Orthodox monk Grigori Rasputin, who served as a confidante to the Russian Emperor Nicholas II.

As legend has it, Rasputin died in 1916, but not until he had reportedly been poisoned, kicked, strangled, bludgeoned with a club, shot four times and had his penis sliced off. His assassins eventually wrapped him in a carpet and threw him into the Neva River. Official cause of death: Drowning.

When last we checked, Rasputin was still dead.

Fidel? Not so much.

Bill Ervolino is a columnist and features writer at The Record (Bergen County) and author of "Some Kind of Wiseguy."

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