McDowall was always a giver, even when occasion was sad

by Robert Osborne
BPI Entertainment News Wire, 10/07/98

NEW YORK (BPI) -- No one could have faced their own imminent, unretractable demise more gallantly than Roddy McDowall. To the end, he was a class act of amazing dimensions. (One always sensed that Roddy had True Grit; his last days proved just how much.)

He had an operation for prostate cancer two years ago, after which he'd received positive reports from his doctors; he also felt in fine fettle, and kept working, including that exhaustive November-January legit run as Scrooge in the musicalized A Christmas Carol; at New York's Theatre at Madison Square Garden. In April came bad news: The cancer was back but, hopefully, controllable. In August, the prognosis was horrendous: The cancer had spread throughout his system, and he had only a few weeks to live.

But even given that, Roddy never vented anger, ranted, grandstanded or even complained. He kept his cool, his sense of humor and -- with the unruffled sense of organization with which he'd always managed his life -- began putting his affairs in order.

"Don't fret, you silly rotter," he told me. "The news in the moondocks is distressing, but it's all just a passage of time, you know. I don't have a problem with it. The thing I won't be able to handle is if people go to pieces around me."

It did upset him a great deal that his illness was made public -- unnecessarily, he felt -- before he'd personally been able to tell all his chums, and he had close friends everywhere. No one took friendship, and confidences, more seriously than he. Nor did anyone more enjoy entertaining pals (and snapping pictures of them), which is why, up to his very final days, he was still hosting dinner parties at his home, keeping the banter as light as possible while saying goodbye and giving some parting mementos to those he loved. Yes, there was some physical pain; yes, he soon had to spend his time in a wheelchair, but otherwise, it was business as usual on Brookdale Road ...

One thing that gave those last days and hours great comfort and meaning for him was the enormous outpouring of affection he received: Flowers, faxes, cards, letters and calls came from all over the world. He also had the great personal satisfaction that, just prior to his doctor's August verdict, he'd been selected to be the principal on-camera spokesman for Kodak, a deal that would have paid him a minimum $1.8 million. Getting the job pleased him enormously; not being able to do it was a disappointment, he said, "because I wanted to give the money away to everybody."

That was Roddy.