Special Reports

Remembering Marvin Hamlisch At His Funeral

Marvin Hamlisch
(© Joseph Marzullo/WENN)
Marvin Hamlisch
(© Joseph Marzullo/WENN)

Marvin Hamlisch was a master at so many things — and had the Oscars, Tony Awards, and Emmys to prove it — so it’s no surprise that he planned his own funeral today at the magnificent Temple Emanu-el in New York City, from the lush yellow flowers to the presence of nearly 600 volunteer choir singers conducted by Judith Clurman — including me — on hand to pay a fitting final tribute to him. And what an event it was!

The temple was filled to capacity — with celebrities and longtime friends like Liza Minnelli, Lucie Arnaz, and Donna McKechnie, as well as members of the general public — and throughout the service, one could hear lots of laughing and crying, often at the same time.

Rabbi David Posner gave a heartfelt sermon in which he celebrated their friendship over all the many years. Then Hamlisch, who was compared to the late George Gershwin (who also died way too young), was honored with eulogies from luminaries around the world.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton appeared first on the bimah with a warm-hearted eulogy about Marvin’s profound inability to say no to international charities and fund-raising both political and otherwise. His wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, texted right after her husband’s speech to lend her condolences.

Sir Howard Stringer, chairman of the board of the Sony Corporation, talked about celebrating the holidays with Marvin and how he brilliantly substituted names of his friends for the actual lyrics in the songs of the season, and philanthropist Leonard Lauder remembered the wonderful friendship and generosity that Marvin had shared with his wife, Evelyn.

Richie Kagan, his friend of 45 years, recalled how he met Marvin at Camp Geneva, the very same camp where I met Marvin. Richie told the crowd stories about how he had been intimidated by Marvin’s reputation until he first met him carrying a banana in a paper bag all the way from New York City in case he should get hungry.

As one might imagine, all eyes were on Terre Hamlisch, his wife of over 20 years, as she got up to speak. Terre was most articulate, telling all of us how she met Marvin years ago when she was a news reporter and fell in love with his child-like humor, talent and generosity.

As for me, I first attended Camp Geneva at age 9 — and met Marvin when he was a 16-year-old music counselor there. He was a skinny, awkward, funny, and talented man, who never gave me a part in his plays. I finally got one today! It meant so much to me to be able to pay homage to this man who cultivated my ongoing love for theater and music that has permeated my soul.

Our voices rang out as we sang “What We Did for Love” and “At the Ballet” (from A Chorus Line) and his Oscar-winning hit, “The Way We Were.” (If only Barbra Streisand had been there to join us!) In those moments, the chaos that had abounded as we practiced earlier and navigated through the temple’s narrow hallways instantly evaporated, as we expressed our love for this brilliant, never-to-be-forgotten man.