Hope has been a fixture on the network for 60 years--an unprecedented run that will land the comic icon in the Guinness Book of World Records. "I started before the peacock, and he wound up taking my parking space," the 93-year-old entertainer joked in a statement.
Hope will host one last NBC special, Laughing with the Presidents on November 23, before bidding adieu. "Watch out, Michael Jordan," he said in an open letter published today in the Hollywood trades and the Los Angeles Times. "I've decided to become a free agent."
Hope made his NBC radio debut as Rudy Vallee's guest in 1934; the following year he was hosting his first broadcast for the network. In 36 years on NBC television, he's logged 284 primetime shows.
Because of declining health in recent years, Hope hasn't so much hosted specials as let specials happen around him, sitting or standing as guests come out. "He's totally deaf, and you have to shout for him to hear you...He's not always so lucid," said Molly Mayock, an entertainment producer for Los Angeles' Fox affiliate, who interviewed Hope last summer.
NBC had reportedly considered dropping him three years ago and was going to send him out with a gala retrospective, Bob Hope: The First 90 Years,. They even dedicated its Burbank studios to the entertainer. But once his daughter and executive producer, Linda, went public about the plans, the network re-signed him.
Now it looks like Hope is leaving on his own terms. After his final special, he'll hit the road promoting his new book, revise his autobiography, transfer his old specials to home video and work on his golf game, said a spokesman.
Hoped in his statement: "I'll finally have time to do something I've always wanted to do--travel." No problem for a guy who must have 9 million frequent-flyer miles saved up from nearly 50 years of entertaining American troops abroad.