What Audrey Meadows Refused To Do For Jackie Gleason!
(The Death of Jackie Gleason)   Peabody & Sherman cartoons on DVD Classic Commercials on DVD Mary Tyler Moore Show on DVD Flintstones on DVD



What Audrey Meadows Refused To Do For Jackie Gleason!
(The Death of Jackie Gleason)
(The Death of Jackie Gleason)

by Billy Ingram

Audrey Meadows of the HoneymoonersSportscaster Bob Costas used to host a late night half-hour chat show entitled Later with Bob Costas on NBC from 1988 until 2000. It was one of the very best talk shows of all time.

Generally, Costas had only one guest per program, everyone from Billy Crystal to Paul McCartney to Stephen Stills - notables from show business, TV, music and, of course, sports. He is and was one of the best, most informed interviewers in TV history.

On a two-part episode, Bob Costas sat down with legendary TV star Audrey Meadows, best known as Alice Kramden to Jackie Gleason's Ralph. Meadows talked about her favorite episode and about Jackie Gleason's last days dying from cancer.


Audrey Meadows described Gleason as, "Absolutely bigger than life. Everything about Jack, he was the most immaculately dressed human being, no matter what size he was, you know? Because his weight went up and down."

About that fave episode? "I have two favorite episodes," Meadows says although she never specifies what the second one was. "One is the adoption story where we adopted the baby. And, uh, unbeknownst to us, we ran overtime and we finished it for the studio audience but it wasn't finished for the public.

"And the phones were tied up at CBS for several days with people calling up saying they do not have to give that baby back. That mother has no right to take the baby back. They can keep the baby.

"And a friend of mine's mother called me up, who works in, did at the time, worked in, in one of those groups, you know, for unwed mothers. And she said, Audrey, you do not have to give that baby back. I said, 'Mrs. Douglas it's a story, it's a play. I don't have the baby.' She said, 'oh my God.' She said, 'babe, everyone took it so seriously.' It was the most beautiful written story I think of all time."

Jackie Gleason, 71, died of liver and colon cancer June 24, 1987. Her last conversation with him was very poignant. "I loved him, so I just, well, I love Art [Carney] too, but there was something about Jack that just took your heart, you know... the quickness with which the illness took him was, to me, so a blessing for him but sad for Marilyn [Gleason's wife] and the rest of the people who loved him.

"And I had been talking to June Taylor and Marilyn because I had lost my husband. Then June lost hers shortly after and then Jackie went.

"I was waiting for a time when Jackie would be alert enough and well enough to talk to him on the phone. So Marilyn and I had it planned and put the call through. And she took the phone in the closet and she said, 'Audrey, now don't feel badly because he doesn't speak very clearly now he kind of mumbles and we have a hard time figuring out what he what he means.'

"And I said 'I know Marilyn, I understand' so I could hear her. She took the phone from the closet over to the bed and she said, 'Jackie, it's Audrey. It's Alice, it's your Alice.' And he picked up the phone and I said, 'hello Jack.' And the first sentence I didn't understand at all. And I said, 'Jackie, it just occurred to me,' I said, 'I was just thinking after all these years, I never really thanked you for giving me the part of Alice.' And as clear as a bell, his voice came through and he said, 'I knew what I was doing. I always knew what I was doing' with that wonderful reading that he had.

"And then we spoke just for shortly, a few more minutes, and then Marilyn took the phone back. And in talking to me, she said to him, well, that's great you mumble when you talk to us, but you could speak clearly when you talked to Audrey, it was the actor."

But there was one thing the actress refused to do. Shortly after Gleason died they asked Audrey Meadows to deliver a eulogy for her former co-star as Alice in the honeymooners' kitchen set.

"They wanted me to come on as Alice as if Ralph had died," Meadows told Costas. "I said, 'Ralph didn't die, Jackie died. Ralph is living on forever.' Everything that Jackie created that's on film will live forever. And I thought it was total insanity and I had quite a difficult convincing him that I would be perfectly happy to walk back into the set dressed as myself, Audrey, not Alice and do a real caring eulogy for the man that we all admired and respected so much."

Here's that eulogy:



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After Jackie Gleason's death it was revealed that "The Great One" had changed his will the day before dying, leaving less of his estate to his wife and more to his two daughters.

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