His name is Fred Smoot.
He was a standup comedian and a photographer. He was part of the associated press that took many of the photos you may have seen regarding Vietnam, specifically the Tet Offensive.
However, Fred would have preferred to have been remembered as a standup comedian—and that he was. He was a guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson seven times; this was a drop in the bucket compared to all the other notable appearances he made as an entertainer on numerour late night and daytime television programs in the 1960’s and 1970’s. He shared the stage with many, including: Johnny Carson, Neil Diamond, Merv Griffin, Steve Allen, The Everly Brothers, Count Basie, Paul McCartney's WINGS, Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, Olivia Newton John, Ella Fitzgerald, Chicago, Fleetwood Mac, Dave Brubeck Quartet, Gordon Lightfoot, 5th Dimension, Count Basie and his Band, Mamas & the Papas, Mac Davis, Bobby Darin, and Trini Lopez.
I listened to all of his friends recounting stories regarding his life and all the joy and laughter he brought to them; it was palpable—if not contagious. We can all be so lucky, to be remembered so fondly, and to be the one bringing the joy and smiles to others.
One of his friends stated that there is a star in the sky that she chose for him. She has named the star after him. Ironically, that star is in the Canis Minor Constellation (this was not a conscious decision). It’s a small constellation in the northern celestial hemisphere, and it’s name means the lesser dog, or the more specific title, the underdog.
Fred died as a rich and wealthy man. While he was not someone who possessed a large monetary fortune—I mean, he lived in spare bedrooms from the kindness of others, he ate the food that friends provided to him, and lived in his car with no possessions—he was a billionaire in terms of the friendships and laughter he brought to everyone in that room today. I could feel it, and I cried—and I have never met him in person.
Fred had dementia. Quite literally, he was a man with a shrinking brain. For those of you that may wonder, yes, “The Incredible Shrinking Brain” was partially inspired by Fred—however he deserves his own song—I’m working on it.
In the meanwhile, Fred, this poem is for you. It is by one of my favorite poets, Robert Frost:
The great Overdog
That heavenly beast
With a star in one eye
Gives a leap in the east.
He dances upright
All the way to the west
And never once drops
On his forefeet to rest.
I'm a poor underdog,
But to-night I will bark
With the great Overdog
That romps through the dark.
You brought everyone in your life so much joy and laughter, Fred—and to me, you brought tears, and for this, I thank you. God bless you. You are loved.