Bob Hope's one-liners gently poked fun at presidents, blunted the sting of combat for American soldiers from World War II to the Gulf War, and ultimately made him the most revered of American comics.
Hope, who turned 100 on May 29, rode a genial wave of success in movies, radio and television to a position unique among entertainers. He died Sunday of pneumonia at his Los Angeles-area home, publicist Ward Grant said Monday. His family was at his bedside.
As the 20th century's good humor delivery man for US troops, Hope took his show on the road to bases, field hospitals, jungles and aircraft carriers around the world, peppering audiences with a fusillade of brief, topical gags.
Hope's humor lacked malice, and he made himself the butt of many jokes. His golf scores and physical attributes, including his celebrated ski-jump nose, were frequent subjects:
``I want to tell you, I was built like an athlete once -- big chest, hard stomach. Of course, that's all behind me now.''
``It's hard for me to imagine a world without Bob Hope in it,'' said filmmaker Woody Allen, who cited Hope's 1942 film Road to Morocco for pointing him toward comedy.
``The nation lost a great citizen,'' President George W. Bush said after hearing of the comedian's death.
The English-born Hope began in vaudeville and ended up conquering every medium. When Hope went into one of his monologues, it was almost as though the world was conditioned to respond. No matter that the joke was old or flat; he was Bob Hope and he got laughs.
``Audiences are my best friends,'' he liked to say. ``You never tire of talking with your best friends.''
Along with family members, Hope's longtime caregivers and a priest were present when he died.
``I can't tell you how beautiful and serene and peaceful it was,'' daughter Linda Hope told a news conference. ``The fact that there was a little audience gathered around, even though it was family, I think warmed dad's heart.''
``He really left us with a smile on his face and no last words. ... He gave us each a kiss and that was it,'' she said.
Hope earned a fortune, gave lavishly to charity and was showered with awards, so many that he had to rent a warehouse to store them.
Though he said he was afraid of flying, Hope traveled countless kilometers to boost the morale of American servicemen. He headlined in so many war zones that he had a standard joke for the times he was interrupted by gunfire: ``I wonder which one of my pictures they saw?''
So often was Hope away entertaining, and so little did he see his wife, Dolores, and their four children, that he once remarked, ``When I get home these days, my kids think I've been booked on a personal appearance tour.''
On his 100th birthday, he was too frail to take part in public celebrations, but was said to be alert and happy -- and overwhelmed by the outpouring of affection. The fabled intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street was renamed Bob Hope Square, and Bush established the Bob Hope American Patriot Award.
``He can't believe that this is happening and that he's made it to his Big 100,'' son Kelly Hope said at the time.
Leslie Towns Hope was born in 1903 in Eltham, England, the fifth of seven sons of a British stonemason and a Welsh singer of light opera. The Hopes emigrated to the US when he was four and settled in Cleveland. They found themselves in the backwash of the 1907 depression.