By People Staff
May 31, 1999 12:00 PM

The lights were about to dim for an exclusive movie screening at the local cinema in Sag Harbor, N.Y., and Peter Gethers still had no idea why he’d been invited that night in 1993. Then the guest of honor, actor Anthony Hopkins, arrived, sat next to Gethers and promptly inquired, “You didn’t by any chance bring Norton, did you?” Once again, Gethers had been upstaged by his cat.

Not that he minded. A Random House Inc. editor, Gethers, 46, immortalized Norton in two books, The Cat Who Went to Paris and A Cat Abroad. Since May 8, when the 16-year-old feline, ill with cancer and kidney failure, died in his arms, Gethers has received hundreds of condolences from around the world. (He will bury Norton’s ashes in the garden of his Sag Harbor home.) The letters came from readers and from friends Norton had made flying on the Concorde, lunching at three-star Parisian eateries or living for a year in Provence. A bellman at L.A.’s Four Seasons boasted that the establishment was “Norton’s hotel of choice.” Says screenwriter William Goldman (All the President’s Men), who dined with Gethers and Norton at L.A.’s trendy Spago: “I was always excited to see Norton. You assumed he understood what you were saying. He was a remarkable cat.”

Gethers was a cat hater when an ex-girlfriend gave him the 6-week-old Scottish Fold in 1983. “It was instant love,” he says. Unable to bear leaving the kitten (named for Art Carney’s Ed Norton on The Honey-mooners), Gethers carried him in his pocket and, later, in a canvas bag.

There was nothing the two liked more than hitting the road, which they did for the final time recently. “I treated him to a royal last week of his life,” says Gethers. They had dinner at a Charlottesville, Va., inn. “He sat in his chair,” says Gethers, “and had a little grapefruit sorbet.”