Date: Fri, 4 Jul 2008
I’m writing because, today, I lost a good friend, Larry Harmon.
Larry passed away this morning at the age of 83.
Larry was best known for having portrayed Bozo the Clown for 50 years, while franchising the character across the globe. We had planned to publish a book on his life, The World According to Bozo, to kick off a publishing company I recently started with two other authors and Rolling Stone writers.
Like millions of other children, I’d grown up with Bozo the Clown. Since his first appearance on TV in 1949, and for every decade afterward, he has held a virtual media monopoly on clowndom. Practically every famous clown since, from Ronald McDonald to Krusty the Clown, would not exist without him.
When I first sat down with Larry Harmon to talk about his book, I expected to hear a tale of hardship and decadence. I thought this would be a book about the frown behind the smile. But I was wrong.
Because Larry was Bozo.
And Bozo was Larry.
There was not a frown behind the smile, but simply another smile.
For three hours over dinner, Larry regaled me with stories of speaking with John F. Kennedy weeks before his assassination; of running for president himself, during which two assassination attempts were made on his life; of choreographing a dance routine with Fred Astaire; of training for space flights at NASA; of decorating Clark Gable’s house; of searching for the cannibals of New Guinea who allegedly consumed Vice President Nelson Rockefeller’s son; and even more incredible tales.
Just when I began to believe he was making some of these stories up, Larry pulled out photographic evidence. And, sure enough, there was Bozo in full clown makeup in New Guinea with a tribe of cannibals.
But what struck me about Larry wasn’t just the stories. It was who he was as a human being. As he spoke, Larry’s face was red with excitement, his energy boundless, his smile unceasing, his patience superhuman, his perspective on life bright and sunny. I’d never met a happier, more energetic, more enthusiastic 83-year old.
On my birthday, he left a greeting on my answering machine in his Bozo voice, because he knew it would thrill me. And this wasn’t unusual for him: anyone who recognized him – and anyone who didn’t – was treated to a full Bozo show. The waitresses stopped at our table constantly that first night just to hear his stories, which Larry, wearing a plastic Bozo watch, was only too happy to tell again.
As long as he was making someone smile, Larry was happy. And I told myself, when I grow up, I want to be just like Bozo.
Because if, like Larry, you always see the best in yourself, the best in others, and the best in the world around you, you will not only be much happier than those who hold the opposite view, but you will radiate a warmth and charisma that will preserve your youth and attract others more effectively than the priciest plastic surgery. In Larry’s own words, the best way to live is to ‘just keep laughing.’
Some believe fresh air, exercise, and a balanced diet is the secret to a longer, healthier, happier life. Others believe in botox and face lifts. I believe in Bozo.
Larry Harmon, thank you for making this world a better place.
‘As long as there’s sex, there are going to be kids. As long as there are kids there’s going to be a world. As long as there’s a world, there’s going to be a Bozo.’ –Larry Harmon, 2008