Honorary Mayor Of Hollywood Johnny Grant Dead At 84
First Published: January 10, 2008 12:39 PM EST Credit: AP
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- Johnny Grant, the avuncular honorary mayor of Hollywood who traveled the world as Tinseltown's No. 1 cheerleader for more than a half-century, has died. He was 84.
Grant died just before 7 p.m. Wednesday, apparently of natural causes, said Officer Jason Lee. Grant was found dead on a bed in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Lee said.
Grant was perhaps best known as the jolly host alongside more than 500 celebrities he inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The lifelong bachelor lived in a 14th-floor suite at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
Grant's mission in life was bringing the Tinseltown story to everyone. He hosted red carpet Oscar arrivals and Walk of Fame festivities, appeared in bit parts in movies, and produced Hollywood's annual Christmas Parade.
"I feel I have been the luckiest guy in the world," he often said. "It's been a pretty good ride."
Ana Martinez-Holler, a spokeswoman for the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce who has worked with Grant for 20 years, said he had had several recent health problems, including a broken bone in his back.
"I had lunch with him today … we had omelets together and he said he wasn't feeling good," she said Wednesday. "I saw him walk away after lunch, and that was the last time I saw him."
"Hollywood won't be the same without him," she said.
Grant also joined globe-trotting Bob Hope as a USO ambassador, bringing entertainers to war zones to perform for U.S. military personnel during the Korean and Vietnam wars and battles in the Middle East.
He helped introduce homesick soldiers to Debbie Reynolds, Connie Stevens, Jane Russell, Terry Moore, Penny Singleton and Angie Dickinson, among others, leading Hope to once quip that he himself was "the rich man's Johnny Grant."
"You'll never find a more generous soul in your life," Dickinson told The Associated Press in 2006. "He was a ladies man. He's a Taurus. He's a doll."
Another close friend, actress Mamie Van Doren, described Grant simply as "Mr. Hollywood."
"I dated him in my teens," she recalled. "He's one of the greatest people I've ever known, so kind."
Over the years, Grant chatted with Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, Tom Cruise, Bing Crosby, Walt Disney, Frank Sinatra and Dolly Parton, and was a friend to several presidents, including John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon. He counted President Reagan as one of his closest friends.
Born in Goldsboro, N.C., Grant was a cub reporter for radio station WGBR when he hitchhiked to Washington to cover President Franklin D. Roosevelt's third inauguration. The diminutive reporter sat in a tree to write down what he saw for his report.
He joined the U.S. Army in 1943, then came to Hollywood after his discharge, where he landed a small role playing a reporter in "The Babe Ruth Story" (1948), which starred William Bendix.
He was lured to Hollywood, he once recalled, after seeing Mickey Rooney in the 1938 film "Boys Town."
"If that little guy can do it, so can I," he remembered telling himself.
Grant also had a part in Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" (1954) with Bing Crosby and played himself in 1966's "The Oscar."
He did Lucky Strike cigarette commercials on radio's "The Jack Benny Show" and radio celebrity interviews at the Ham & Egger restaurant on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street.
He also did radio interviews in the lobby of Ciro's on Sunset Boulevard, now the Comedy Store, which was the personification of glamour and glitz in the 1940s and 1950s. His guests included Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Grable, Mel Torme and Joe DiMaggio.
"This really was Hollywood," Grant said of those days.
In 1951, he made his first overseas trip to entertain the troops.
Beginning in 1946, he was host of the game show "Stop the Clock," which aired alternately on Dumont Television in New York City, WBGR-TV in Schenectady, N.Y. and WPTZ-TV in Philadelphia.
He also worked for Gene Autry at radio station KMPC as host of the "Freeway Club" from 1951 to 1959, becoming one of the nation's first disc jockeys to mix regular traffic reports between playing records and interviewing celebrities.
The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce named Grant Hollywood's honorary mayor in 1980, a position he held for the rest of his life.
The Associated Press Television and Radio Association honored Grant last March at the Mark Twain Awards in Universal City with a special award for his accomplishments.
During the dozen or so Walk of Fame ceremonies the job called for him to preside over each year, he would gin up the crowd with laughter, jokes, handshakes and an occasional embarrassing moment.
His biggest flub, according to Grant, was when he introduced inductee Joan Rivers to the cheering crowd by shouting, "Here she is, Miss Joan Collins."
Rivers shook it off, telling the host she had been called much worse.
During his 84th birthday last May, Grant said of all his accomplishments in Hollywood, he was most proud of three things: the Hollywood sign, the Walk of Fame and the Hollywood postmark.
"We're not supposed to have one because we're not our own city," he said. "But I got it."
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.