We’re not much for marking the day people pass away; we prefer to celebrate the day they were born. But the anniversary of Groucho Marx’s passing—he died on this day in 1977—carries with it some sad, sweet memories that are worth revisiting.
We can still vividly remember our first Marx Brothers movie. It was 1974 and, having just turned sixteen, we were given permission to borrow the family Volvo to drive across town to catch a double feature of Horse Feathers and Monkey Business.
We were thoroughly and completely hooked—on the entire Marx clan, of course, but especially Groucho. Our prized possession to this day remains the autographed photo we received from him after sending him a birthday card on what proved to be his last birthday.
On August 19, 1977, we were on a camping trip in Colorado with our parents and siblings. We were sporting a Groucho t-shirt, as we often did in those days, and a kid we’d met the night before at the campground where we were staying walked up and said, “Hey, guess what happened?”
At that moment, we had a sort of premonition about what he was referring to, though we hadn’t heard any news, having only just crawled out of our sleeping bag.
“Groucho died,” we said. A statement, not a question.
“Yeah, how did you know?” he asked.
We didn’t know exactly how we knew, but we did, somehow. And we were more than a little bit heartbroken over it.
Distraught, we sought out our folks for the solace they could provide. We found them at the campground’s general store, where they were in the process of buying all the copies of that day’s newspaper, so that we might be spared the sad news of Groucho’s passing, which they feared would spoil the last two days of the trip for us.
It was one of the sweetest things anyone ever did for us.
The other sweetest thing? Our father, hoping to cheer us up, gave us some money and told us to go have some fun. We went to an Old West-themed amusement park, where we bought (well, placed an order for—they were delivered via the mail) three one-dollar bills with pictures of Groucho, Harpo, and Chico superimposed over George Washington’s face.
When they arrived in the mail some weeks later, we had them framed, and they hang on our wall to this day.
We can remember how, on the long ride home from Colorado to Oklahoma City, the deejays on the radio kept going on and on about Elvis, and we were thinking, “But Groucho died! What about that?”
We told our mother that day that it was the only time in his life that Groucho’s timing had been off.
We’re still not over Groucho’s passing. The world was a better place with him in it.