The testimonials to Bob Hope by grieving members of Congress were so vivid that one could almost imagine the 95-year-old entertainer were still alive.
He was.A thoroughly embarrassing string of events, even by congressional standards, began Friday afternoon when House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Tex., introduced Rep. Bob Stump, R-Ariz., for an "announcement I think will be of great interest to this body."
Stump stepped to the microphone on the floor of the House and said, "Mr. Speaker, I have the sad responsibility to tell you this afternoon that Bob Hope passed away."
At that very moment, Hope was in California "eating a late breakfast and preparing to go hit a couple of golf balls," said his publicist, Ward Grant.
Hope, who celebrated his 95th birthday a week ago, laughed when he heard the report, and said, "They were wrong, weren't they?"
The congressional faux pas emanated from an Associated Press article being prepared in the event of Hope's death. The article was inadvertently displayed on the news service's Web site Friday and relayed to Armey by congressional staff.
Armey wanted Stump to make the announcement because the Arizonan is close to Hope and his family. Stump, a World War II Navy veteran who attended one of Hope's comedic performances at Pearl Harbor in 1943, helped push through legislation naming Hope an "honorary veteran" last year.
Grant said there had been rumors of Hope's demise before this one, "but not to this degree, not announced by Congress."
Confronted by reports of his death before a performance eight years ago, Hope replied, "Does this mean I don't have to go on?"
After Stump's announcement, House Minority Whip David Bonior, D-Mich., said on the floor, "I would add these comments to my friend from Arizona that we are all saddened by his passing. He has provided so much joy and happiness to this planet and to our servicemen and women in particular."
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Tex., also paid homage to the not-so-departed Hope.
Phones began ringly madly at the United Service Organizations, which Hope helped make famous with his entertainment programs for armed forces personnel overseas.
"They were from all over the place, people worried about him, media people, board members, friends of Bob Hope," spokeswoman Pat Messer said.
Finally, Armey stepped back onto the floor to apologize for an "announcement that was erroneous regarding a report that Bob Hope had passed away."