Tough time of life, losing a friend

The big pink chair will be empty this Eagles’ season.

It was Uncle Curt’s chair for Eagles daytime games, when he walked over from his Center City apartment to mine, two blocks away.

Two things were certain: Uncle Curt brought a half-gallon of Diet Pepsi that he bought in the suburbs, to avoid Philly’s exorbitant tax. The second certainty was that he’d share the big pink chair with Nut Bag, my Shih Tzu mix who had fallen deeply in love with Curt Block, who we called Uncle Curt because of his relationship to the dog.

The dog’s affection was easy to understand because Curt was a likeable guy. Nut Bag (not his real name) likes all people, but there are a couple who make him almost jump out of his skin with happiness. Curt was one. Nut Bag’s joy was unrestrained when he saw Uncle Curt coming, all madly wagging tail and leaping up on a leg.

Curt was a dog lover, so he didn’t mind sharing the chair with my dog, not even when Nut Bag went from the chair to Curt’s lap. Curt would happily pet the mutt. 

Curt was in my life longer than in my dog’s, a lot longer.

—-

We met in L.A. in June 1980. I last spoke to him three days ago. He died in his sleep Saturday night at 83. It was completely unexpected, his weeping daughter told me on the phone.

In 1980, he was a network flack for NBC; I was a newly appointed TV critic for the Philadelphia Daily News, and I was critical. Some of us journalists were, others were mild, some bland.

The NBC PR crew was the most sociable. CBS was the most stiff, believing its reputation as the Tiffany Network.  ABC was the youngster on the block, often paranoid because its success was achieved with shlock programming, sometimes called “jiggle TV,” as illustrated by Three’s Company. 

I’d see Curt in January and June in L.A. — the semi-annual event when the networks show off their programming and make their executives and stars available for interviews. These sessions sometimes lasted up to three weeks, a long time to be away from home. Serious TV journalists worked 7 days a week, sometimes from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., if they were filing stories from the coast. 

A native New Yorker, Curt attended Hofstra — majored in journalism, and he could write — and lucked into covering sports (he had been a Knicks ball boy as a kid) for Armed Forces Radio as his military service. 

He joked that his “hardship post” was Times Square. 

During his brief radio career one highlight was interviewing Cassius Clay, as he was then known, and he worked with Howard Cosell, about whom he had many stories.

He jumped into TV and one of his early responsibilities was handling press for Saturday Night Live. He worked for Lorne Michaels, who was a genius producer, but lacked a sense of what would fly.

Such as when Sinead O’Connor tore up a photo of the pope on camera toward the end of the show.

Curt was there, live, on duty during the show.

The NBC switchboard received about 50 calls immediately after the show, Curt was told.

“Fifty? That’s not many,” Michaels told Curt, who had to explain that was 50 calls in the middle of the night and the story would explode the next morning when reporters got on the phone.

Curt was right. He knew a disaster when he saw it.

He was average height and weight, he had a great smile and a great head of well-styled hair. It was so good I asked if it was a toupee. 

He said it was not,  and the barber I sent him to confirmed that.

Curt had moved to Philadelphia in 2002 to replace a liver he had fried as a network executive heavy drinker. 

The surgery was performed at the University of Pennsylvania hospital, and Curt decided to stay in Philly because he liked the city and both of his grown children lived in the suburbs, along with his four grandchildren.

With Curt living here, our friendship blossomed. It replaced the annual get-togethers in New York, in which Curt hosted me and Lee Winfrey, who had been the Philadelphia Inquirer’s TV feature writer. 

Lee was a terrific writer, a Southerner with a Faulkneresque style. We all enjoyed a good alcoholic drink, something that Curt never again touched after he got his new liver.

When he and I went out, we were often joined by Chris, a former restaurateur, and we came across like the Three Musketeers, with me being the kid of the group.

From left: Curt, Stu, Chris at a Phillies game

Curt would often act as the referee to break up bickering between Chris and me. It wasn’t in his nature to join in the arguments. (I suspected he would have sided with Chris on politics, me on sports.) In the two decades he lived here, Uncle Curt became one of my closest friends. At this point in my life, I am losing friends who can’t be replaced.

He never broke the habit of reading several newspapers a day, supplemented by ESPN, because he never lost his love of sports. We made predictions of each Eagles game, never for cash.

He was going to be with me on Sept. 12, for the Eagles regular season opener.

Nut Bag is going to wonder why the big pink chair is empty. 

28 thoughts on “Tough time of life, losing a friend”

  1. Nice article about a tough subject. It reminded me of how much I miss the friends I’ve lost in the past few years. Thank God for memories.

  2. A beautiful tribute in which your pain is evident, as is your love for your friend. My sincerest condolences.

  3. Having just turned 70 myself, your article was very timely. Another buddy of mine, who will turn 70 in another year, were lamenting that at this point in our lives we are going to be losing many of our dearest friends on a fairly regular basis.

    A very sweet remembrance of your friend, who as you said, can’t be replaced.

  4. HAPPY MONDAY !!!
    Stu,
    Sincerest condolences from our house to yours. The man led a great life. Friends and family will mourn his loss forever.
    Somehow, he managed to do the impossible. He left here in one piece and asleep in his own bed.
    amen
    Tony

  5. Please accept my sincere condolences on the loss of your dear friend, Curt. You and all who love him will remain in my prayers in the challenging weeks ahead. May the angels lead him into Paradise!

  6. I am sure that Uncle Curt is pleased with your tribute, Stu. We should all have good friends like you were to Curt!

  7. A little over 25 years ago, Tom (my husband) and I lost a close friend to a brain tumor.
    She was only 36 years old.
    Over and over again, co-workers criticized our grief “It’s only a friend—not like family!…”
    But our friends were, and are, always closer to us than our families are, or will ever be.

    We knew that Lisa would not survive, but we grieved for her just the same.
    I join you in your grief, Stu. I’ve been there, and it’s no fun.

  8. Stu: Thank you for the lovely tribute to our Hofstra friend. I knew he had some good friends in Phila., and had become an Iggle fan, but with your journalistic skills you have described a fuller part of his life than I knew, I”m the designated scribe for the Hofstra jocks….met Curt as a freshman, watched him win games on freshman and varsity team, he was quite a good point guard (probably he didnt tell you, but I was there.) And he became the leader of our aging gang….he was a prince of Foley’s pub, close friend of the proprietor, Shaun. We all saw parts of Curt….I had to break the news to Stanley-the-Endodontist, who was the recipient of a lot of Curt’s best passes back in the day. Well, we’re all mourning a good person, and you saw the Iggle side of him. Thanks for your great piece. George Vecsey

  9. Dear Stu, thank you for your heartfelt piece on Curt. You beautifully captured the essence of this good and decent man .
    I was Curt’s roommate at Hofstra College in the late 50’s. Curt was a star guard on that great Hofstra basketball team of 59’ ! They lost just one game the entire season! Coach Butch van Breda Kolff always said that Curt was his smartest player!
    I played shortstop on the Hofstra Division I baseball team that won the Metropolitan Conference championship in 60’.”
    Curt and I had a lot in common beside sports and we became life long friends.
    After graduation from Hofstra, Curt became a sports broadcaster for Armed Forces Radio and I was signed as a shortstop by the Milwaukee Braves organization, playing minor league ball until the spring of 63’.’
    Life takes people in different directions,, but after my playing days, and while Curt was working for UPI, we reconnected . Needless to say, Curt was one of my best friends and remained so until his passing.
    It’s difficult to speak about Curt in the passed tense, because I still feel his presence. There are things about friendships that are difficult to express , but one thing clearly stands out for me: I am a better man for having known Curt through these many years. I will always cherish his friendship. I will miss him dearly.
    Best,
    Jerry

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