Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bill Clinton and Thousands of Others Say Farewell to Marvin Hamlisch

So many tender moments during Marvin Hamlisch’s 90-minute funeral today. His numerous awards -- Pulitzer, Tony, Oscars, etc. -- were mentioned frequently, but what speaker after speaker, including former President Bill Clinton, remembered the composer for most was his big heart. He was, as Clinton said, the “people’s composer” and the humanitarian who couldn’t say no to any request for help. 

Hamlisch’s farewell drew a full house -- close to 2,000 people at Temple Emanu-El on Fifth Avenue, among them Liza Minnelli, Richard Gere, Bette Midler, Kelli O’Hara, Diane Sawyer and Bernadette Peters. The choir of 600 included his Broadway friends singer/actress Lucie Arnez, lyricist Sheldon Harnick and orchestrator Jonathan Tunick. Beginning with “The Way We Were,” they sang Hamlisch’s songs from stage and film. We in the audience rose to join them for “What I Did for Love.”

But the most moving tribute was from his wife, Terre, who started out bravely but ended in tears. It was just last week that she lost her partner of 26 years when he dropped dead unexpectedly at the age of 68 after a brief illness.

She remembered the large man with the big smile who lived by the rule “if you can’t say something good about someone, then don’t say anything.” When she was feeling down, he would pull out all the stops to restore her spirits, such as the morning he woke her -- far earlier than she would have liked -- by jumping onto the bed and singing and playing all the parts of a musical (she didn’t say which one), complete with choreography, for the whole show.

And he kept that enthusiasm to the end. She told how it had yet to be announced that he was to take over this fall as director of the Philadelphia Pops. Another friend shared Hamlisch’s pride in the reviews of his latest musical, The Nutty Professor, based on the Jerry Lewis movie. That show, for which Hamlisch wrote the music and which Lewis is directing, is playing in Nashville.

After finishing her remarks, Terre Hamlisch walked over to her husband’s coffin, draped in yellow flowers, for a moment, reaching out to touch it before returning to her seat. It was painful to see her grief, and then again as she walked down the center aisle behind that coffin, tears streaming down her face.

Rest in peace, Marvin Hamlisch. From all that was said, it is clear you were indeed one singular sensation.

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