In one of the movies he wrote, Friendly Voices , a character's motto is: "Live audaciously, speak the truth, have a good breakfast." That same aphorism might well have applied to the life its author, Bob Comfort, who died on Jan. 8 at the age of 69. He once told a lifelong friend that if they examined her DNA, they'd find party hats on it. That, says Mr. Comfort's widow Bonnie (née Brotman), was true of him as well.
In a letter sent to friends recently, she wrote: "Bob loved being with friends, saying hilarious things and having everyone join in till we were drunk with laughter."
His nickname for his wife was "Pretty," as in "Hi, Pretty. How are you?" And, says Bonnie, "he really did want to know how I was. All of our 32 years together. And when he talked to you, he really wanted to know how you were, wanted you to know he believed in you, and probably had too much advice for you about the risks you should take to change your life. He was a big believer in trusting your abilities and taking a chance on them."
Bob, she added, "was funny and charming, all the way to the end."
The end came last month in Portland, Ore., the couple's home for the past 14 years, the result of Lewy Body Dementia, a rare condition with the same underlying neuropathology as Parkinson's disease. Mr. Comfort was formally diagnosed in 2004. In LBD, microscopic protein deposits destroy normal brain tissue. There is no known cause.
Many Albertans will remember Mr. Comfort for his four years spent as a colourful afternoon radio show host in Edmonton in the early 1970s. In addition to his hosting duties, he was president of Tinsel and Sham, which created shows and commercials for radio and TV. In a series of sketches about Canada's conversion to the metric system he played a character named Yardly Footlong, a villain doing battle against Milly Meter. Mr. Comfort was said to be so popular that political parties tried to get him to run for office.
Once, on his radio show, he interviewed a reverend whom he thought was a con man. Preparing for the session, he sent away for a mail-order certificate that made him a reverend as well. When his guest insisted that Mr. Comfort call him Rev. Smith, he hauled out his own ordination certificate and said, "Then you have to call me Rev. Bob." Later, he did his best to debunk Scientology, receiving threats from members as a result.
His antipathy for religion derived from his upbringing. Mr. Comfort was born in Drumheller, Alta., one of three sons. His father was a high school teacher and the family were devout members of the Church of the Nazarene. By his teenage years, some of the faith's more fundamentalist beliefs were causing him problems - the more so since not far from the church lay the bones of dozens of dinosaurs, fairly conclusive evidence, he thought, that the earth was older than 6,000 years, as it said in the Bible.
He eventually left the church, but remained deeply interested in things inherently spiritual, such as particle physics. He read widely in the field and followed discoveries in space. "Bob did believe there was something beyond this life," Bonnie says.
At 17, Mr. Comfort went to live with an aunt and grandmother in Pasadena, Calif. He finished high school there, then joined the Marine Corps, soon shipping out to the Far East.
On his first day in boot camp, in 1959, Mr. Comfort threw back a pint of milk just before a company run. Suddenly needing to vomit, he raced outside the mess hall, pursued by a drill sergeant.
"What … do you think you're doing?"
"Sir, the private had to heave, sir."
The sergeant moved his face inches from Mr. Comfort's. "You're a Marine … or you're going to be. Swallow it!"
As Mr. Comfort later recalled it, "he didn't believe that I was actually going to do it. I did. He jumped back and I got vomit all over his feet, all over his shoes."