Inside the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, the late-afternoon sun illuminated the crucifix and fell on the banks of white roses. Mourners roamed the aisles searching for a seat among the throng that included two former Presidents—Ford and Reagan—as well as a pantheon of show business giants. Outside on a lawn dotted with floral wreaths, about 200 people waited to listen to the two-hour service that would be broadcast over loudspeakers. On Feb. 8, Danny Thomas’s family, friends and fans had come to say goodbye to the 79-year-old comic, who had died of a heart attack at his Beverly Hills home.
The mourners came from the several worlds where Thomas had made his mark. The comedians were there: Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Red Buttons, Jack Carter, Joey Bishop and Carl Reiner. The TV and screen people included Thomas’s TV wife, Marjorie Lord, and Mary Tyler Moore, Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie, alums of the Dick Van Dyke Show, which Thomas produced. The throng also included prominent Arab Americans, including deejay Casey Kasem, who came to honor the son of a Lebanese-born dry-goods peddler who had become a golden boy of television’s golden age. After the service, Thomas’s body was flown to Memphis, to be buried on the grounds of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which he founded in 1962.
Thomas’s death cut further into the ragged ranks of the old troupers who helped TV come of age. As Bob Hope said in his eulogy: “I have no doubt Danny is in heaven with St. Jude, Bing, Jack Benny and Lucille Ball and Sammy [Davis] and a lot of old friends.”