Legendary Comedian Bob Hope Dies at 100

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.

His longtime publicist said Hope died Sunday night of pneumonia, while surrounded by his family at home in Toluca Lake, Calif.

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

Hope's daughter Linda said his death was peaceful and serene, with family members, a priest and the doctors and nurses who had tended to him over the years around him.

"Dad had an amazing send-off," she said at a press conference Monday. "All of the family was together with him and he died peacefully last night around 9:30." She said the "good vibes that he put out during his lifetime came back to take him up."

She said she would remember her dad most for being "full of fun" and that "laughter and joy brought him the most joy."

A memorial service is planned for Hope August 27th, she said.

President Bush joined the nation in mourning the death of the comedian. "Today the nation lost a great citizen ... Bob Hope made us laugh and he lifted our spirits," Bush said Monday as he boarded Air Force One en route to Pittsburgh.

• Photo Essay: Thanks for the Memories
• Video: Bob Hope, Part One | Part Two

"Bob Hope served our nation when he went to battlefields to entertain thousands of troops from different generations," the president said. "We extend our prayers to his family. God bless his soul."

Former first lady Nancy Regan said in a statement that “Bob Hope was one of our dearest friends for over sixty years — losing him is like losing a member of the family.

"Ronnie always said that Bob was one of our finest ambassadors for America and for freedom, spending his lifetime entertaining servicemen and women away from home and overseas, especially in time of conflict.  He showed people around the world that American spirit and enthusiasm are unstoppable."

Senator Joe Lieberman also expressed his appreciation for Hope's humor. "I can't think of another person who brought more laughter into the lives of men and women, particularly service men and women," he said Monday. "I have the greatest memories... I want to join a united nation in expressing our gratitude."

Phyllis Diller told Fox News that her fondest memory of Hope was when she accompanied him to Vietnam to entertain the troops. She said they performed at a natural ampithetre where 20,000 GIs sat on the soil to watch. "He would look at them with such affection," Diller said of Hope. "I knew he generally cared about them and it touched my heart."

"I loved him madly, and he's at peace now," Diller said.

Comedian Pat Cooper spoke of his admiration for Hope to Fox News: "His talent had talent."

"When Bob Hope walked into a room, there was magic about this man," said Cooper. "He served more time in the service than serviceman. Christmas, Easter time, holidays. That's when he was in the trenches."

Actor and comedian Dick Van Dyke compared Hope with writer Mark Twain, saying they both had a sense of humor that was "uniquely American."

Hope's 85-year-old nephew Milton says he hopes his uncle is remembered not just for the jokes but also for donating money and time to charities. "All I can say is he sure made a lot of people happy," he said.

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 signature tune that would become his theme song, "Thanks for the Memory."

The film, starring W.C. Fields, depicts a race between two ocean liners. Hope plays a master of ceremonies for shipboard entertainment. As a plot twist, all three of his fictional ex-wives happen to be on board for the Atlantic crossing.

Famed columnist Damon Runyon cited Hope's duet with Shirley Ross as a highlight of the film, writing, "What a delivery, what a song, what an audience reception!"

The song was an instant hit and won composer Ralph Rainger and lyricist Leo Robin the Academy Award for best song.

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."