D.O.B.: . May 26, 1886 (Lithuania)
D.O.D.: October 23, 1950
Cause of Death: Heart Attack
Location: Hillside Memorial
Born Asa Yoelson he was the man who was later to be billed as The World’s Greatest Entertainer, emigrated with his family to America, where the Yoelsons set up home in Washington DC at the end of the 19th century. The family lived in impoverished circumstances, in common with most other immigrant families,
Together with his older brother, Hirsch, young Asa ran away from home in his early teens, hoping to pursue a career as an entertainer. The two boys changed their names soon after, appearing in vaudeville in the early part of the 20th century as Harry & Al Jolson. After many years spent learning his trade in the rough and tumble of American show-business, during which time he and his brother went their separate ways, Al Jolson finally achieved success when he won a part in the 1911 Broadway production, La Belle Paree, at the Winter Garden Theatre.
Jolson starred in the first ‘talking picture’, The Jazz Singer, in 1927, leading to a successful second career in movies. With the closing of his final Broadway show, Hold On To Your Hats, in 1941, Jolson went into semi-retirement. However, his work entertaining troops during World War II, and the release, in 1946, of the enormously popular biopic, The Jolson Story, catapulted him back into the limelight, resurrecting his recording and broadcasting career. The story of his life was continued in a second film, Jolson Sings Again, in 1949. As recently as 1995 a show based on Al Jolson’s life, Jolson: the Musical, opened in London’s West End, enjoying a successful run of eighteen months before moving on to Toronto in 1997. Versions of the show subsequently toured America and Australia.
Divorced from showgirl Ruby Keeler in 1939, Jolson married for the fourth time in 1945.
He died in October 1950, shortly after returning from entertaining UN troops in Korea.
A staunch patriot, his contribution towards bolstering the morale of front line troops in this conflict and during the two world wars, was recognized by the posthumous award of the American Medal of Merit. During an era marked by conflict and depression, Jolson’s ebullient good humor, and the unfailing optimism expressed in his art, quickened the heartbeat and lifted the spirits of ordinary people everywhere.
Despite the half century that has elapsed since his passing, Jolson is still fondly remembered by millions, including many of today’s popular entertainers who readily acknowledge his influence upon their own careers.
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