May 4, 2007

That time the health food guru went on the TV talk show and died.

Dick Cavett tells the story. It happened on his show. (TimesSelect link.)
[Jerome I. Rodale] was extremely funny for half an hour, talking about health foods, and as a friendly gesture he offered me some of his special asparagus, boiled in urine. I think I said, “Anybody’s we know?” while making a mental note to have him back.

I brought out the next guest, Pete Hamill, whose column ran in The New York Post. Rodale moved “down one” to the couch. As Pete and I began to chat, Mr. Rodale suddenly made a snoring sound, which got a laugh.

Comics would sometimes do that for a laugh while another comic was talking, pretending boredom. His head tilted to the side as Pete, in close-up as it happened, whispered audibly, “This looks bad.”

The audience laughed at that. I didn’t, because I knew Rodale was dead.

To this day, I don’t know how I knew. I thought, “Good God, I’m in charge here. What do I do?” Next thing I knew I was holding his wrist, thinking, I don’t know anything about what a wrist is supposed to feel like.

Next, in what felt like a quick film cut, I was standing at the edge of the stage, saying, “Is there a doctor in the … (pause) … audience?”
He had the wits to know to figure out how not to say "Is there a doctor in the house?" which would have made people laugh.

The show was never aired, but Cavett did watch the tape a view weeks later:
[W]e noticed three things that, incredibly, no one had recalled Rodale’s saying: “I’m in such good health [he was 72] that I fell down a long flight of stairs yesterday and I laughed all the way.” “I’ve decided to live to be a hundred.” And the inevitable “I never felt better in my life!” (The gods and their sense of humor.)
That happened back in 1971. I remember something else like that from back in the 1970s. The actor Peter Finch was on the show and, if I am remembering this correctly, he -- or someone else on the couch with him that night -- talked about death and said by the time he would be on the show the next time some of the people listening to him saying this would be dead. Finch himself died a week day later.

8 comments:

MrBuddwing said...

Peter Finch: He was on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson, plugging "Network." He died the next morning, and Carson mentioned it that night.

Annie said...

I refer often to that Cavett story (it came out in his book, published by Harcourt Brace shortly after I worked there), also as an example of God's or the gods' dark sense of humor and determination to show us it ain't up to us, by killing off Mr. Health Food on national TV. The joke's on us. I'm annoyed that the story's in money jail.

Annie said...

I refer often to that Cavett story (it came out in his book, published by Harcourt Brace shortly after I worked there), also as an example of God's or the gods' dark sense of humor and determination to show us it ain't up to us, by killing off Mr. Health Food on national TV. The joke's on us. I'm annoyed that the story's in money jail.

rightwingprof said...

Didn't Euell Gibbons choke to death on a pine cone, or something like that?

"Many parts are edible!"

Jeff said...

Algonquin Round Table eminence Alexander Woollcott died during a live talk show in 1943. He was the NY Times drama critic befor and after WWI and he was the inspiration for Kaufman and Hart's The Man Who Came to DInner. Today he's mostly forgotten although some of his witticisms live on:

"All the things I really like to do are either immoral, illegal, or fattening."

SalsaNchips said...

"Euell died due to Marfan syndrome, with the result of an elongated aorta that burst."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euell_Gibbons

Chip Ahoy said...

I suppose if a person talks about how to have great health it's not possible to die without it being ironic. Jim Fixx died at 52 and somehow that turned into a joke. Never heard the Cavett story about Rodale, but that sure would freak out a person.

Richard said...

Your post reminded me of this story:

Dick Shawn (1924-1987) was a comedian who had a heart attack and died during a joke that seemed strangely appropriate:

He was making fun of politicians by saying campaign cliches ending with "I will not lay down on the job!" Shawn then laid down on the floor face down. At first, the audience thought that it was all part of the show, until some time later a theater employee checked him for a pulse and began administering CPR.

The paramedics then arrived, and the audience were told to go home - Dick Shawn was dead.

http://www.neatorama.com/2007/03/12/30-strangest-deaths-in-history/