Jack Klugman's Widow Turns Planned Holiday Party Into Memorial

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"He was a grouchy optimist," says entertainment journalist Jeanne Wolf, who attended the "party that ended up being a memorial." She reminisces about her longtime friend here.

Surrounded by friends and family, Peggy Klugman -- the widow of late actor Jack Klugman (who died Dec. 24 at age 90 most likely of natural causes) -- held an informal celebration of his life at the couple's house in Woodlands Hills, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 29. One guest, entertainment journalist Jeanne Wolf (jeannewolfshollywood.com) talks about how his friends remembered him last night and her longtime friendship with the actor:

Jack Klugman was at his memorial party held this Saturday night, just not the guest anyone expected. His presence was felt by all. The Klugmans annual holiday party, "Mingle and Jingle," at their spacious Woodland Hills home, had been planned for some time. When Jack unexpectedly died a few days before the event, his wife, Peggy, made the right decision: "We're going to celebrate Jack! So the party is still on."

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In a room full of large posters of Klugman's films and some amusing mementos, Peggy showed friends that an urn with Jack's ashes had arrived in the middle of the day. "He decided to show up after all," she smiled. "He came early." One pal piped up, "Hey, at least some of those ashes belong at the racetrack." You know that Klugman would have delivered that line perfectly. You also know that he would have laughed.

Loved ones were gathered and there were tears, of course, but even more stories and laughter as tapes of Klugman's TV shows played around the house. Guests enjoyed Jack's favorite chili and favorite candies. There were many toasts and memories.

Jack starred onstage and TV for the world. For me, personally, he was a star in my life. We first met when he came to Burt Reynold's theater in Florida to act in one of his pal's plays.

I can't count the times we had dinner, or I went to see him perform. In the mid-’80s when throat cancer began to really affect him, the tabloids blasted rumors that he was dying. Entertainment Tonight called him and he insisted, "I'll only tell this story to Jeanne Wolf." What a responsibility! As he sought medical help to improve his voice, I wrote for TV Guide about his battle to regain his speech.

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I’ll never forget Jack telling me, "I wasn't afraid that I’d die. I was just terrified that I wouldn't be able to act again."

No wonder I always thought of him as the grouchy optimist. One of the highlights of our friendship was attending his wedding to Peggy in 2008. He was 85 years old and just beaming. Friends like Garry Marshall and John Stamos came to tease him and to toast him.

He went back to TV and to the stage with his great friend Tony Randall. Troubles with his voice continued, but the audiences applauded so he kept doing his comic thing.

At one point in vocal therapy he told me, "Now I have the voice of a 16-year-old. I’m looking for a doctor who could give me the body of a 16-year-old."

Broadway dimmed its lights in a tribute to Klugman. I'm sad he's gone, but seeing just a few minutes of him on-screen I was laughing out loud again. And his memory lingers in his house blazing with holiday lights which weren't dimmed but maybe burned a little brighter this weekend.