Bob Hope may be best known as a comedian, but he lived a full and fascinating life that cut across stage, screen, public service and even a flirtation with sports.
Hope, who was born in England as Leslie Townes Hope, moved to the US when he was only five. His performance career began at the tender age of twelve, when he began to dance and do comedy routines to make some extra money. His comedy routines turned out to be much more successful than his later brief foray into boxing.
He began steady performance work at 22, and made his first film in 1934 at the age of 31. Though his stint with the first company that hired him to do film work, Educational Pictures, was extremely brief, he soon became a very popular movie star. In spite of his popularity and his hosting the Academy Awards a whopping eighteen times between 1939 and 1977, Hope never received an Academy Award of his own.
Bob Hope did receive four honorary awards from the Academy, however, not just because of his prolific work but also because of his commitment to the United Service Organization (USO). He performed for the troops starting in 1941 and continuing through World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and even the Persian Gulf War. His Christmas specials, performed in Vietnam in 1970 and 1971, were each seen by more than 60 percent of U.S. households watching television when they aired.
Aside from these travels, he also performed on Broadway, for radio and television, and as already mentioned, in films. Amidst all of this, he also nurtured a great love for golf; the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic was created in his name in 1960, and he even made history playing golf in a foursome that included presidents Gerald R. Ford, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. That was the only time in history that a golf foursome included three U.S. presidents.
The comedian lived so long that he saw not one but two premature obituaries written for him. In 1998 the Associated Press accidentally released a pre-written obituary, and his death was announced in the House of Representatives. Then in 2003 a lapse in password protection caused his and several other obituaries that had been pre-written to be inadvertently released on CNN’s website.
On May 29th, 2003 – Bob Hope’s 100th birthday- more than thirty states declared the day Bob Hope Day; he celebrated his centennial privately in his home. He died on July 27th, 2003, a result of his steadily declining health. (When his daughter asked the seriously-ill star where he wanted to be buried, he reportedly told her, “Surprise me.”) He was interred in the Bob Hope Memorial Garden at San Fernando Mission Cemetery.