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The Death of the Jazz Singer
Al Jolson, Harry Akst and Martin Fried arrived in San Francisco on October 23, 1950, taking an afternoon flight from Los Angeles. Jolson was scheduled to appear as a guest on the Bing Crosby Radio Show and after booking into St. Francis Hotel they had a seafood dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf.
The card game he never finished. Cards in gin rummy game are just as Jolson left them when the fatal attack came.

On returning to their hotel, they played cards for a while before Jolson said: “I’m feeling a bit tired. Think I’ll just have a lie down . . . Do Jolie a favour, Marty, willya? Call room service and get me some bicarbonate of soda - I have a little indigestion.”

Harry decided to call for the house doctor. There were two, but both were on call. Remembering a name his physician had given him, Al told Harry: “Look up Dr. Kerr and ask him to come over.”

Dr. Kerr answered the call: “It’ll take some time to get there.”

“You don’t understand, doctor. This is Al Jolson and it’s an emergency,” said Harry.

Jolson waved his hands: “You crazy bastard! You want everybody to read in the papers tomorrow morning that Al Jolson had to get a doctor for indigestion?” The doctor heard and assured him: “Don’t worry, I’ll be there in half an hour.”

Al turned to his friend, “Harry, I’m not going to last.” Harry recalled, “My heart jumped. I looked down and saw he had been taking his pulse. I said: ‘Al, don’t talk that way. It’ll pass. It’s nothing but indigestion.’”

Jolson's last known photograph. Jolson (right) confers with Jerry Wald (left) and Norman Krasna on plans for a musical starring Jolson based on his USO experiences overseas.
The hotel nurse arrived first. “Don’t tell me this is the patient . . .” she started cheerfully - Al was still tanned from Palm Springs.

“Nurse,” said Al, “I’ve got no pulse.”

She took his wrist: “You’ve got a pulse like a baby.”

The house physician also arrived about the same time as Dr. Kerr. “I’m a little embarrassed about this, gentlemen,” Jolson said as the two doctors got ready to examine him.

First they asked him what he had done that day and what he had eaten. “Pull up a couple of chairs and let’s talk,” Jolson told them. Two chairs were brought and Dr. Kerr told him how much he admired him: “I saw you in London in 1929.”

Al joked: “You know, President Truman only had one hour with General MacArthur. I had two.”

Suddenly Al reached for his pulse. “Oh, I’m going,” he said sadly, before sinking back on his pillow, his eyes closed. The World's Greatest Entertainer, Al Jolson, born Asa Yoelson only 64 years before, was gone.



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This listing and material Copyright © 2003 Marc I. Leavey, M.D. Baltimore, Maryland
Updated 09 Nov 03