To many, if not most of us, it was a shock to learn composer, pianist and conductor Marvin Hamlisch passed away today at the relatively young age of 68. I never met Mr. Hamlisch, but conversed with two friends of mine today who were friends of Marvin's, and to whom I expressed sincere sympathy for his passing. One was a lady in D.C., whose married name is Joy Stern, and with whom I shared high school years in New York. Her father, Ted, was on the board of trustees of Professional Childrens School (PCS), which Marvin attended, concurrent with his studies at Juilliard (the latter where he began classes at age four). Joy's sister, Gay, taught at PCS and Marvin was one of her first students. Joy told me her Dad (who was also like a second father to yours truly) once helped Marvin's father get work when he was having a down-in-financial-luck period. Her Dad was one of the greatest PR men ever in the business and was a close associate of the late Nelson Rockefeller, among others, but still very down-to-Earth and a delightful human being.
The other with whom I spoke on the phone this morning was Peter Nero, to me the truly greatest pianist of our time, also conductor and artistic director of Peter Nero and The Philly Pops for the past 33 years, and obviously in Philadelphia. I've been communicating more heavily with Peter the past few months regarding plans to possibly have him retained for special events concerts in eastern Europe starting later this year, during his available time, thus was able to reach him more readily on the phone regarding the passing of Maestro Hamlisch. I called Peter because I knew he had booked Mr. Hamlisch to be a guest conductor with Peter Nero and The Philly Pops during their upcoming season, thus wanted to express my condolences. Peter said he'd been "inundated" with emails this morning about Marvin's passing, but thanked me for the call. We then reminisced a bit about Marvin's early life and his friendship with Peter. Peter, as many people did today, stated Marvin died "too young". Indeed, but in my opinion, death never comes at the "correct" time, but is certainly the ultimate leveler of all our mortal playing fields.
Regarding mortality, the late CBS and ABC newscaster, anchorman and moderator of the first presidential television debates (Kennedy-Nixon, in 1960) wrote many books, but the last one he wrote had a fascinating title, in my opinion. It was entitled Events Leading Up To My Death. His name was Howard K. Smith, and, I'm honored to say, was a friend who hosted a ten-hour series for which I was consulting producer, asking and convincing Howard to say "Yes" to host the series. It was enitled The Remarkable 20th Century, and aired on numerous PBS stations from 2000 onward. Sadly, Howard's son, Jack, also an excellent ABC-TV newsman, died at a very early age. Jack was the most unaffected and unassuming person anyone could ever hope to know, and I was also blessed to know him during my on-air D.C. television days, circa 1974-1977, part of that time during which Jack was also ABC-TV's Paris Bureau Chief. He helped me a great deal while filming some "standups" I had to do in Paris for a ski documentary I was producing and hosting about the French Alps for WJLA-TV in D.C. I also had the pleasure to work with Jack's sister, Catherine, at WJLA-TV. Catherine is now the only one still alive from Howard and his late wife Benedicte's offspring, and lives in Los Angeles.
The back-stories in these blogs, if any, are always related in this space for a few elementary informational reasons, most of which could possibly be summed-up with what former NBC-TV newsman, Sander Vanocur, once said about relating information people may not know. He called it the "Gee Whiz! I didn't know that!", syndrome. Reaching age 75 this past Sunday, what my family kindly labeled a "milestone" birthday, it reminded me of more events leading up to my death, thanks to Howard's book title, and reinforcing the fact life is fragile, short and to be savored as much as possible. Marvin Hamlisch's passing today was another reminder of that reality none of us can escape, regardless of what we achieve, or don't, during our lives.
Thanks, as always, for taking the time to read these thoughts, and if you wish to, please also join me for my SENIOR MOMENT webcasts at www.startribune.com/video. The subject changes every Monday.