Monday, August 13, 2007

Laughing at the Dead

Growing up in my day you couldn’t help but know Merv Griffin. At least, you knew him as much as anyone you saw on television. Gene Rayburn, Bob Barker, Johnny Carson, Mr. Rogers, Lucy, and Merv Griffin.

My memory doesn’t capture anything specific about Merv, but I remember he was a television personality easy to like. In those days, you couldn’t be David Letterman or Howard Stern, much less Robert Downy, Jr. Even folks like Jackie Mason and Don Rickles were reserved for special venues… and you certainly wouldn’t have Rickles host a game show or interview guests. (I think "Mr. Warmth" guest hosted for Johnny a couple of times, but that must have been in the mid- to late 80s.)

Like Carson, Merv represents an era of entertainment that might not come back. I hope it will, but we’re not removed from our television shows or the personalities. Television was a window to another part of the country. We not only looked in on California and New York we looked in on national celebrities (in the true sense of the word). Now we see them at all hours of the day… and most of them are watered down celebrities.

According to Pat Sajak, Merv’s attitude was genuine.
…He was a dear friend to me and my family, and there was no better friend to have. First of all, Merv knew everyone. When you were with him, you rubbed shoulders with the most exciting and famous people on the planet. We vacationed together in some of the most glamorous spots in the world, and we stayed up very late laughing as long and hard as I’ve ever laughed in my life. No one ever told a story better, and no one ever had better stories to tell. And he was a great audience. That much-imitated laugh of his was completely genuine, and it breaks my heart that I will never hear it from him again.

…Whether on a TV show or in a living room, no one could make you feel more alive than Merv Griffin. His life was a celebration, and those of us who participated in it can’t help but feel blessed.

Merv would be very upset that his friends should be as sad as they are. He didn’t believe in sadness. He was upbeat, forward-looking and optimistic to the end…

I know, I know… Sajak? Look, say what you want about the guy, he’s got something.

A few members of my family passed away over the last few years. My Grandma Sue, my cousin Shell, and my Great Aunt Pat (Auntie Pat)… they were a riot. Sometimes a little abrasive, but I always remember them laughing. In fact, even at their funerals I wasn’t down. Knowing these folks you really couldn’t. They were real characters with big personalities.

Other family members and friends make me feel the same way. When they go I’m inclined to remember the joy they brought me and many other folks.

Can there be a better tribute to someone’s life than laughter and joy?

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