Marvin Hamlisch Hailed as a Singular Sensation at Music-Filled NYC Funeral Service

By Harry Haun
14 Aug 2012

Hamlisch at the 2008 Theater Hall of Fame Honors
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Other mourners included Ann-Margret, Billy Stritch, Rita Gam, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Richard Osterweil, Raul Esparza, Jamie de Roy, Barbara Carroll, Bill Evans, Mike Nichols and Diane Sawyer, Frank Rich and Alex Witchel, Maria Cooper Janis, Jim Brochu, Stephanie J. Block, Bernadette Peters, Liliane Montevecchi, Tony Danza, Richard Gere, Liz Smith, Emanuel Azenberg, Kathie Lee and Frank Gifford, Joy and Regis Philbin, Fiddle Veracola and Richard Belzer.

Speakers at the funeral included Sony chief Sir Howard Stringer (who called Hamlisch "the merriest of minstrels"), and a friend of 48 years, Richard Kagan. They met as rival music counselors at camp in the Poconos, Hamlisch arriving with a banana in a brown paper bag that he had brought from NYC. "This will be easy," reasoned Kagan. Also speaking: Lily Safra, Leonard Lauder, William Mitchell and Ebs Burnough.

Hamlisch's widow, a former news anchor at Columbus' WTVN-TV, spoke last and most eloquently. She gave special shout-outs to two of his most cherished friends from widely different worlds — Liza Minnelli and former Yankee manager Joe Torre.

"Liza, he loved you so," she told the singer. "When they were young on subways on the way to auditions, he would belt out the song to Liza, 'You'll be swell/you'll be great' from Gypsy to cheer her up."

As for that other world: "His Passion for music, especially for the theatre, was who he was. But he also had a mountainous love and passion for his beloved Yankees and for his dear close friend, Joe Torre. He used to have the Yankee scores whispered to him by someone strolling on stage right as he was performing. That's until he found this gizmo he bought that he could put on the conductor's stand. I thought I always sensed a bit more enthusiastic movement and rhapsody if the Yankees were winning."

There were times when he was ahead of the curve, she remembered. "As the genius process goes, sometimes he would write things that some people do not get right away, and he'd say, 'It's okay, Terre. I will be known as the people's composer because I will make music accessible to the millions.'

Mrs. Hamlisch pointed out her husband rallied to cultural causes. "His leadership, vision and contagious personality and enthusiasm for the stage transformed symphonies — symphonies that are in very difficult financial circumstances — and audiences adored him. He increased the Pasadena Symphony pre-sales 200 percent and had unprecedented sales. He saved cultural institutions, therefore continuing culture in our country. I liked the card with the Pasadena Symphony's flowers. It said, 'Marvin's genius was genuine.'"

This week the announcement was to be made that he would be the musical director of the Philadelphia Pops. "He had so many things that he was looking forward to. His friend Jay Stein said that he was the Steve Jobs of this industry. He started early and ended early, but he changed lives.

"Marvin had this quote hanging in front of his desk that he looked at every day. It's a quote from His Holiness the 14th Dali Lama. It says, 'The true meaning of life: We are visitors on this planet. We are here for 90 or 100 years at the most. During that period, we must try to do something good, something useful with our lives. If you contribute to other people's happiness, you will find the true goal, the true meaning of life.' You did that, honey. You were so much greater than you ever thought. How fortunate we all are in our time that you came our way.

"How incredibly lucky and grateful and honored and humbled I was to share 26 years with you. Thank you from the depths of my heart. I love you, Marvin, and I always will. Just like it said on our wedding napkins: 'Forever — and after that.' Thank you. Thank you for all of us."

View the Entire Photo Gallery
Hamlisch in rehearsal for Smile with Anne Bobby, Tia Riebling, Nikki Rene, Donna Marie Elio, Veanne Cox, Lauren Goler, Cheryl-Ann Rossi, Julie Tussey, Cindy Oakes and Jodi Benson, Sept. 1986