Entertainer Danny Thomas, best-known for his 1950s television series "Make Room for Daddy" and his patronage of St. Jude's Children's Hospital, died of a heart attack Wednesday. He was 77.
Norman Brokaw, head of the William Morris Agency and Thomas' longtime agent, said the actor suffered an apparent heart attack at his Trousdale Estates home about 1:30 a.m.Paramedics took Thomas to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead in the emergency room at 2:01 a.m., hospital spokesman Ron Wise said. "There was nothing that anyone could do," Wise said.
Thomas celebrated his 77th birthday Jan. 6. He had just completed a tour to promote his autobiography, "Make Room for Danny."
"He was a sweet, sweet man," Brokaw said. "I grew up with him in the business. He was a marvelous man."
Thomas was born Amos Jacobs in Deerfield, Mich., to Lebanese parents and grew up in Toledo, Ohio. He adopted his professional name during a nightclub date in Chicago in 1940.
Last September, Thomas made a surprise visit to the small town where he was born, touring the village of about 1,000 people and popping in at some stores and St. Alphonsus Catholic Church, where he was baptized 77 years ago.
"Make Room for Daddy," renamed "The Danny Thomas Show" after its first three seasons, was one of the longest running family comedies, running from 1953 to 1964. Thomas played a nightclub singer and comedian, Danny Williams.
Jean Hagen played his first wife, Margaret, followed by Marjorie Lord as his second wife, Kathy; Angela Cartwright played Kathy's daugh-ter, Linda; and Rusty Hamer played his son, Rusty. Sherry Jackson and Penny Parker played his daughter, Terry.
The title came from a phrase used in the real Thomas household. Whenever Thomas returned home from a tour as a nightclub and radio comedian, his children had to shift bedrooms to "make room for Daddy."
Carl Reiner, who produced the "Dick Van Dyke Show" with Thomas as co-executive producer, said he was saddened by Thomas' death.
"He was the most alive man I've ever met," Reiner said Wednesday. "You'd just walk up to him and there would be energy coming out from him. The word `love' comes out. He exuded love. He hugged you and complimented you. He was always positive."
Thomas was most proud of his hu-manitarian works, his countless acts of charity and work for worthy causes.
He endowed St. Jude's Children's Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., as a shrine to his patron saint - the patron saint of the hopeless whom he prayed to when he was a $2-a-night nightclub comic with a wife who wanted him to go into the grocery business.
Pope Pius XII made him a Knight of Malta and Pope Paul VI decorated him as a Knight Commander of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
At St. Jude's, the mood Wednesday was somber.Comment on this story
"We're saddened," hospital spokesman Jerry Chipman said. "Danny was here Monday for the hospital's 29th birthday. He was cutting cake, chatting with kids and parents, shaking hands with employees. His spirits were high, his health seemed good. It's a terrific final memory - he was having such a great time when he was here."
A religious man, Thomas once said, "My purpose in life is to propagate the philosphy of man's faith in man, based upon my own belief that unless man re-establishes his faith in his fellow beings, he can never establish a faith in God."
Thomas is survived by his wife, Rosemarie, and his children, Marlo, Teresa and Tony.
Marlo Thomas, wife of TV talk-show host Phil Donahue, for a time eclipsed her father's fame with her "That Girl" TV series in 1966. Tony Thomas is a television producer.