Hope was born Leslie Townes Hope on May 29, 1903 in England, and moved with his family to Cleveland, Ohio when he was four. His show business career began at age 10 when he won a Charlie Chaplin imitation contest. Hope first appeared in vaudeville at 18, working with such performers as Fatty Arbuckle, Lloyd Durbin, and George Byrne; while he and Byrne were performing in New York, the two were chosen to appear in The Sidewalks of New York with Ruby Keeler and Smith & Dale.
Other stage successes followed for Hope, including such shows as Ups-a-Daisy, Bob Hope at the Palace, Ballyhoo of 1932, Say When, The Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 with Eve Arden and Fanny Brice, and Red, Hot and Blue with Jimmy Durante and Ethel Merman. While performing on Broadway in Roberta in 1933, Hope met his future wife, Dolores Reade.
Hope was the star of his own NBC radio show beginning in 1938, and he performed on over 1000 programs over the next 18 years. In 1944, his show was the top-rated program on American radio. He debuted on NBC television in 1950, eschewing a weekly variety series in favor of monthly or semi-monthly specials -- nearly 300 of them -- that continued until 1996. Among Hope's comedy books are I Never Left Home, They Got Me Covered, So This Is Peace, Have Tux, Will Travel, I Owe Russia $1,200, The Road to Hollywood (with Bob Thomas), Don't Shoot, It's Only Me (with Melville Shavelson), and Dear Prez, I Wanna Tell Ya!.
Though Hope began appearing in films as early as 1934, his breakthrough role came with The Big Broadcast of 1938, in which he sang the Oscar-winning song that would become his trademark: "Thanks for the Memory." He would later appear with Bing Crosby in The Road to Singapore, the first of seven Road films they would make together. Other memorable film appearances include Caught in the Draft, Let's Face It, The Paleface, Fancy Pants, and My Favorite Spy. In all, Hope appeared in more than 50 films and hosted the Academy Awards ceremony no fewer than 15 times, although he never won a competitive Oscar for his acting. (He famously quipped that Oscar night at his house was called "Passover.") He was, however, presented with two honorary Oscars, two special awards, and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
For his work on NBC, Hope was cited by The Guinness Book of World Records as the entertainer with the "longest-running contract with a single network." He is also listed by Guinness as the world's most honored entertainer, with over 1500 honors and awards to his credit. In addition to garnering more than 50 honorary degrees and doctorates, Hope received the honorary title of Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1998.
Hope is survived by his wife, four children, and four grandchildren. The lights of Broadway's marquees will be dimmed at 8pm on Tuesday, July 29 in his honor.