The flowers in the hearse were a tribute to Hamlisch's song "Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows." (Photo: Dan Rys)
Celebrities and luminaries of all types congregated at the Temple Emanu-EL in Manhattan Tuesday (August 14) to pay their respects to legendary composer Marvin Hamlisch, who passed away August 6 after a brief illness at the age of 68.
The diverse array of attendees reflected the diverse and successes enjoyed by Hamlisch in his lifetime, which brought him three Oscars, four Grammys, four Emmys, three Golden Globes, a Tony Award, and a Pulitzer Prize for composing the score to the Broadway smash "A Chorus Line" over his 40-plus year career.
Liza Minnelli exits the funeral with Lily Safra. (Photo: Dan Rys)
Actors such as Richard Gere, Alan Alda and Tony Danza, singers such as Liza Minnelli and Idina Menzel, television personalities such as Diane Sawyer, Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford, philanthropists and businessmen such as Lily Safra, Leonard Lauder, and chairman of the board of Sony Corporation Sir Howard Stringer, former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, and former President Bill Clinton were all on hand to remember the composer.
After a brief introduction -- during which it was pointed out that the Temple also served as the venue for George Gershwin's funeral in 1937 -- a large choir that took up either side of the temple and included some of the composer's friends and contemporaries such as Sheldon Harnick, Lucie Arnaz, Jonathan Tunick, and Rupert Holmes performed perhaps Hamlisch's best-known work, "The Way We Were." The song was popularized by Barbra Streisand, who starred in the 1973 film by the same name, and was also the piece that earned Hamlisch his first Oscars for Best Original Song and Best Original Score.
Sir Howard Stringer, left, and former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre outside the temple. (Photo: Dan Rys)
A series of speakers took the stage to remember Hamlisch beginning with Clinton, who noted his philanthropic work and inability to say no to any type of charity engagement, whether for the White House or Clinton's own foundation. "Genius is rare enough, but a good-hearted genius is rarer still," Clinton said. "A good-hearted, humble, and hilarious genius is almost unheard of."
Hamlisch's celebrated sense of humor was noted by Sir Howard Stringer as well, who recalled the holiday parties they would throw where the composer would re-write "The Twelve Days of Christmas" with the names of every guest, or perform "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" in the style of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Others who spoke included longtime friend Richard Kagan (who nearly broke down recalling the first time he saw Hamlisch play the piano), Safra, Lauder (who read from John Updike's poem "Perfection Wasted"), composer William Mitchell, and former Barack Obama deputy social secretary Ebs Burnough, who read a statement from Nancy Reagan that recalled, among other things, a song Hamlisch composed for former president "Ronnie" Reagan for his 77th birthday in 1988.
(Photo: Dan Rys)
Hamlisch's wife Terre stood to speak and began by thanking Clinton, saying "I just got a text from Hillary too, you'll have to thank her for me." Over a heart-rending speech, she noted her late husband's "childlike enthusiasm" and "quick, brilliant mind" -- both signs of genius, she said, and recalled his deep love for the Yankees, acknowledging Torre's presence in the front row.
"I will be known as the people's composer," she recalled him saying, "because I will make music for the millions."
As the speeches came to an end, the choir sang "What I Did For Love" from "A Chorus Line," before Menzel stepped up to sing "At The Ballet." Outside the temple, a hearse packed with yellow roses and rainbow lollipops commemorated another classic Hamlisch composition, "Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows," as the ceremony came to a close.