The former singer was 102 and had been in good health until recently

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated September 19, 2011 04:30 PM
Credit: Matthew Simmons/Getty

Dolores Hope, the radiant wife of comedian Bob Hope, died peacefully Monday morning at her home in Toluca Lake, Calif., a family friend confirms to PEOPLE. She was 102 and had been in relativity good health until the past few months.

The former Dolores DeFina, born in the Bronx, was singing in a Manhattan nightclub under the professional name Dolores Reade when newcomer Bob Hope, after a performance in a Broadway show, walked into the club with the dancer George Murphy. Hearing Reade sing “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” Hope said to Murphy, “I’m going to marry her.” He did, Feb. 19, 1934.

Lucille Ball once said, “The smartest thing Bob Hope ever did was marry Dolores.”

Bob and Dolores honeymooned in Europe and sailed home on the Queen Mary – its final voyage before she was converted into a troop carrier for service during World War II. Hope, by then a famous radio comedian, began entertaining American servicemen overseas for the USO – and his wife often made the trips with him, sleeping on their coats and never complaining about the discomforts.

Giving up her career to raise their children – they had four: Tony, Linda, Kelly and Nora – Dolores was also active in charities, an inveterate golfer (like her husband), an animal fancier and an avid follower of current events. Then again, she and Bob had met every President and First Lady from Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt to Bill and Hillary Clinton. She considered herself a political independent.

While Bob traveled continuously, she kept adding on to their homes in Palm Springs and Toluca Lake (in the San Fernando Valley), which prompted her husband to quip when he got back from one trip, “Hey, I need a map.”

Despite having put her singing career on hold for fifty years, Dolores reactivated it when she was in her late 80s, releasing CDs of old standards and singing at the Rainbow and Stars nightclub in New York’s Rockefeller Center with her dear friend Rosemary Clooney. Both the CDs and the singing engagement were critical hits.

As she admitted, she paid to produce the CDs herself, “but it’s better than buying another piece of jewelry,” she said with a laugh.

A devout Catholic who liked to have a martini after Mass – Bob’s den in the Toluca Lake house served as her private chapel – Dolores once asked Bob where he wanted to be buried. “Oh, just surprise me,” he told her.

Bob Hope died in 2003, age 100, and is buried in the San Fernando Mission Cemetery. Dolores will have the plot beside him, and private services for family are planned for Friday. first reported her passing.