“He was so full of vitality,” Kirk Douglas sadly said to me (on the phone) this afternoon, shortly after learning of the death of his best friend, Jack Valenti. “He was my friend for over 45 years,” Douglas recalled the last time he’d seen him–two days after Valenti suffered his stroke. “He flew in from Washington just to hear me speak at the 92nd Street Y (in New York). He had to go back to Washington for a meeting early next morning.” But Valenti was suddenly stricken and hospitalized. Anne and Kirk Douglas immediately went to the hospital, but Kirk sadly said their friend was in a coma.
Valenti had written the forward for Kirk’s latest book, “Let’s Face It.” He was one of the speakers at Kirk’s 90th birthday party. He was one of the speakers at the Douglases’ 50th wedding anniversary re-wedding ceremony. He was at Kirk’s Bar Mitzvah services when Kirk turned 83. “He was the most unique guy,” Douglas said emotionally. “My problem became his problem.”
I last saw Jack at this year’s Oscars. We were seated next to each other in the Kodak theater. I had introduced him on the red carpet for dozens of years. He loved the Oscars–and he loved appearing on them. At this year’s awards, I wrote how he was helpful to me when Ennio Morricone made his honorary Oscar acceptance speech–in Italian.
During the commercial breaks we talked about Al Gore’s Academy Award doc wins. Washington super-savvy Valenti told me he thought Gore would return to the political scene. He’d known him well from White House days. Alhough Valenti’s personal political stand–liberal–was never a question, he maintained an equal rights position in Washington to benefit Hollywood issues.
He loved everything about the movies for which he fought as leader of its association. He was unbeatable on his feet whether to salute a leader at an industry function or to farewell one in a eulogy. He was tireless. Hours and distances meant nothing to him. He always found time to return a call the same day. Jack Valenti was a gentleman, a giant, and I shall miss him.