April 02, 2002 01:00 PM

Like the honoree himself, the memorial tribute to Milton Berle at L.A.’s Hillside Memorial Park on Monday was larger than life — and funny. Berle, also known as “Mr. Television” because of his enormous influence on the fledgling medium in the late ’40s, died last Wednesday at the age of 93. As reported by the Associated Press, comedian Don Rickles, 75, set the tone for Monday’s eulogies, standing over the flower-draped coffin and declaring to the 300 guests, including Berle’s grieving fourth wife, Lorna Adams: “I would like to be paid for this.” The service resembled a celebrity roast. Red Buttons, 83, said: “Lorna, Milton would have been alive today if it wasn’t for you. All that sex.” Writer Larry Gelbart, 74, never at a loss for words, noted last week’s sad losses of Dudley Moore and filmmaker Billy Wilder, too. “I hear you Milton, sorry,” Gelbart said. “I know you work alone.” As for Berle’s well-known “borrowing” of jokes from other comedians, Gelbart put it gently: “He had a propensity for giving other people’s material a new home.” Bah-dum-bum. But it was a somber Sid Caesar, 79, who gave Berle his due for showing TV executives more than half a century ago that a weekly comedy program was a viable idea. “This was a new thing,” Caesar said. “People don’t realize. He showed them you didn’t have to go out and park the car to see a show.”

For more on Milton Berle’s life, read our special tribute.

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