(Editors Note: This is a special column in remembrance of Norm Johnson’s friend, Robert Goulet, who passed away three years ago. In memoriam, Johnson runs this column each year as he does his 9-11-2001 column, and the column in memoriam of another close friend, Freddie Bell
I lost a very dear and wonderful friend last week. Robert Goulet, who I first met back in the mid-sixties, and for whom I had the honor of working with, off-and-on, for more than 25 years. Goulet departed this earth for the most beautiful stage in Heaven, where he will join many of his buddies, who have been waiting his arrival.
Goulet was a man of the people. He loved his audiences and especially loved the elderly ladies and the children of the world. It was Robert’s pleasure to stay and sign autographs following a concert or a show. He did it all the time, or when he was just out shopping or walking on Broadway. He never felt that he was being bothered. Goulet believed it was an honor to be asked.
Robert Goulet loved to sing, but he also loved to tell jokes. The last time I was hospitalized (in April this year), one of the first calls I received was from my friend. He told me a joke and then we talked briefly. Goulet called the next day with another joke and this time I was able to chat a little longer.
I can remember the night at the Dunes Hotel, where he worked for 36–weeks in 1982. Robert decided it was boring just sitting around waiting for the opening act to finish. So we would do crazy things. As an example: One time we, Robert, his wife Vera and myself, put on waiter uniforms, got a tray or two (without glassware) and walked into the audience, and pretended to accidentally drop the trays. This of course would create a commotion in the audience. It was a great laugh when they discovered it was Goulet. Many times the joke was on Robert. One night Lola Falana was snuck on stage into the violin section, and as Goulet began to sing, she would purposely make the violin screech. The audience knew what was happening, but Robert had no idea. He kept singing and she kept on screeching. Suddenly he stopped, turned towards the violin section and spotted his nemesis. Goulet was on the floor of the stage laughing.
Another time, Vera, decided to really surprise him. The rodeo was in town and a Brahma Bull (a real live one, but quite tamed) was on the grounds of the Dunes Hotel. The bull was snuck backstage as Goulet was performing. Vera climbed up on the back of the bull with a red rose in her hands. You guessed it—she and the bull were led out on stage and Robert was on the floor again.
Goulet was born on Nov. 26, 1933, in Massachusetts, and moved to Canada as a teenager. He was very proud of his Canadian ancestry (his parents were Canadian) and was honored not too long ago by the entertainment industry in Canada.
Robert was fun to be with. He had a favorite toy that he loved to use on people. His fellow Canadian, actor Leslie Nielson, also had a similar device. It was a little gimmick that they would hold in their hand and, while standing near someone, would squeeze it to make a sound like passing gas. Of course Robert would always maintain a straight face.
I was recently asked how I would rate Mr. Goulet as a singer. My reply was very simple: “He was one of the top five singers of our century.” However, in all honesty, I considered him as number two, right behind the great Luciano Pavarotti, who passed away on Sept. 6, 2007.
Robert Goulet was in fantastic health. He worked out in his gym, took vitamins daily, and followed a very strict regimen with his voice. He once said, “You can not afford to let your voice not be used properly…It needs to be working every day…” Goulet was also a top-notch cook and was an early riser. He would make his coffee every morning using various ingredients to give it a different taste. Often it wasn’t that good. But he got a great kick out of watching your expression as you took that firs sip. One never knew quite what to expect.
Goulet was a rapid reader of everything that was readable. He would sit in his study watching the news on TV, while reading a New York Times or a news magazine. You could ask him just about anything to do with current events and he would have the answer.
Local columnist John L. Smith recently commented on how he would often get a call from Robert regarding something he had written or checking on Smith’s ill daughter. Smith was not the only newsperson to receive these calls. He was that kind of a guy. “Hey, this is Bob Goulet…about that article you wrote the other day…?” That’s how the conversation would usually start out, and of course the conversation never became confrontational.
I will miss Robert Goulet. I never thought I would be writing this column. I always believed that Robert would sing at my funeral. Never in my wildest dream did I ever think I would be attending his funeral!
Robert Goulet: Born Nov. 26, 1933, died 10:07 a.m. Oct. 30, 2007. He was only 73.