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Goodnight, George

GOOD MORNING: I said goodbye to George Burns Saturday morning in his bedroom in the Beverly Hills home where he had lived for 60 years. He had died an hour earlier. I bid my fond farewell to a friend I had known all of my 50 years as a showbiz reporter and went back to the sun room, where I was joined by Irving Fein, Burns’ longtime manager and friend. We couldn’t believe that George Burns was actually gone. Only last week, he had gone to his office, where I spoke to him.

ONE DAY, HE WENT TO HIS club and played a little bridge — with his major-domo Daniel Dhoore helping to hold the cards for him, of course. George had suddenly shown new signs of life. He started to eat three meals a day again. He told me he’d go back to the office again,”If I feel like it.” I asked him what he was doing at the office. “I’m working on telegrams,” he told me. “Telegrams?” I asked. “Telegrams, yes,” he said, “from friends and people wishing me well.” “Well,” I told him, “How about working on another book? You could call it ‘The Second Hundred Years,’ ” “That’s a good title,” he laughed. “Maybe I’ll do it.” … In the bedroom where George lay peacefully were his son Ronnie, Dhoore and a Beverly Hills policeman, who was completing the standard death report, noting there had been no foul play, etc. “I’m sorry we have to do this,” said the officer. “Whether the person is a celebrity like Mr. Burns, or anyone else, it’s just something we have to do.” … We had all been warned that George could have died at any time during the past few months. Ronnie, who will be 60 in July, told me, “He said goodbye a couple of weeks before his 100th birthday. But his whole goal was to be 100.” Ronnie cheered him, saying, “Don’t worry, you’ll be joining my mother.” Ronnie also kidded him by saying, “You’re like the Energizer Bunny.” He had the same kind of drive, Ronnie told me. Ronnie also told me, “Thank God he was in no pain.” And added, “Now he’ll be in the same crypt together with Gracie. It will be Burns and Allen forever again.”

GEORGE BURNS was lighting up another cigar when Selma and I arrived at 10 p.m. at the Jockey Club of the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Washington, D.C. It was the start of the Kennedy Center Honors on the weekend of Dec. 3-4, 1988, during which George was to be medal’d. Burns ordered a martini. It wasn’t his first. He said he wanted it strong. He regaled the tables and those who stopped by with tales of showbiz. His memory will live long, thanks for the memories, George. And now the time has come for Gracie to say, “Say goodnight, Georgie.”

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