Gallant Spirit of Gary Cooper (cont'd)
from Screen Stories magazine, August 1961
There was no feeling of gloom, no atmosphere of despair, in the Cooper home. The family laughed and joked and had fun as before. They went to parties and premieres and athletic events, as before. And as before, the curtains and blinds were thrown wide open to let the sun come pouring in on this man of the great outdoors.
Then they stopped going out - and Jimmy Stewart appeared on the Academy Award telecast to accept Coop's honorary Oscar, and to "drop the hint" that told a startled world Coop was seriously ill. Visitors started coming. Messages poured in from such friends and well-wishers as Pope John XXIII, Richard Nixon, the Henry Fondas, Pablo Picasso, Queen Elizabeth II of England, Princess Grace of Monaco, John Wayne, Ernest Hemingway, Ike Eisenhower, Bob Hope, Henry Hathaway, Audrey Hepburn, Mel Ferrer, Bill Goetz, Mary and Jack Benny, Gloria and Jimmy Stewart, Charlie Feldman and Constance and Jerry Wald. President Kennedy called from Washington and couldn't get through on the busy Cooper phone, but kept calling. He got through on the second day to talk to Coop for seven minutes.
Some of these friends had known about Coop's illness before Jimmy Stewart knew it. They had been afraid to mention it to Cooper. Now that they knew he knew, they came or called to offer their condolences, to "hold his hand" - or to hold the hands of Rocky and Maria.
They had expected to find a gloomy home. They found a bright, sunny, happy home, filled with flowers and the sound of gay music from Maria's stereo set.
One friend asked Rocky: "How can you and Maria be so bright and cheerful when you know Coop is dying?" She replied: "We cannot have any less courage than he has."
All three of them had lived together, laughed together and done so many things together for so many years, there was reason it shouldn't continue that way.
There were some few in Hollywood who couldn't understand the spirit of gaiety in a home where the lord and master of that household was dying. They said there was "something sick" about it, and that the Coopers were carrying that Togetherness to an extreme. Those few didn't know the Coopers very well. The simple business of living had always been fun for this close-knit family. As long as there was a breath of life left, it would continue to be fun. This closeness was to carry them through the most terrible travail of their lives.
The Girls tried to keep the business of daily living as normal as they could. Since Coop wanted no display of grief, he insisted that Maria continue to go out on dates. And the beautiful 24-year-old apple of his eye continued doing so until late last March, seven weeks before her father died. He was growing weaker and weaker.
Despite his ebbing strength, Coop stayed on his feet as long as he could. The always-active star seemed to feel that staying in bed too long would only sap his strength. He read a good deal and spent hours sitting out in the sunshine alongside his swimming pool, where he liked to receive his visitors.
Two and a half weeks before his death, the strain became too much for him. Dr. Rex Kennamer decreed there would be no more visitors. Coop gave in.
I know all about those news stories that said Coop went into a coma. It's not true. He never did. He slept a lot, that's true, but only because he was being "put under" with increasingly heavy sedation. Whenever he awoke from his deep sleep he was lucid and able to conduct intelligent conversations. He suffered untold pain. He never showed it and never complained.
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