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Harry 'PopPop' Cooper dies at 98; grandfather and his wife became an Internet sensation giving love advice as 'The-OGs'

The Internet sometimes makes stars out of regular people. That's what happened to Harry "PopPop" Cooper.

A shoe salesman with a broad smile and modest desires, Cooper liked to play golf and travel and occasionally sample exotic foods. More than anything, he loved his family and the simple Southern California life he built with Barbara "Cutie" Cooper, his wife of 73 years.

Two years ago his granddaughters bought a video camera and launched a blog. Soon people from all over the world were tuning in to the-OGs.com — short for Original Grandparents — for PopPop and Cutie's advice on how to craft a love affair as playful and authentic as theirs.

PopPop, who never seemed to fully grasp his late-in-life fame, died Oct. 22 at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles from heart disease, his granddaughter Kim Cooper said. He was 98.

His wife, by his side since they met in the 1930s on the tennis courts at Poinsettia Park in the Fairfax district, is bereft but philosophical about his passing.

"He was just a good guy," Cutie, 93, said last week as she looked through photographs of their life together. "He was kind, he was sweet, he didn't have any affectations."

"He is gone," she continued. "And that's OK."

The Coopers teased each other like sitcom stars — PopPop used to joke that the secret to a good marriage was the phrase "Yes, dear" — but they were deeply romantic. Until PopPop's medical problems kept them apart, they shared a single twin bed at the Hollenbeck Palms nursing home in Boyle Heights.

Their Facebook page, which, like their website, is maintained by Kim and her sister, Chinta, has attracted more than 6,000 fans. "You make me believe in love," one stranger wrote in a digital anniversary card for the Coopers' 72nd wedding anniversary.

The OGs phenomenon was the subject of a Times article in June. In recent months, PopPop also gave interviews to NPR, CNN and NBC's "Today" show.

His life began much more humbly, on April 5, 1912, in Philadelphia. His mother, an emigrant from Germany, died when he was 5. His father, who had emigrated from Russia, couldn't care for Harry alone, so the boy was shuffled among relatives.

After being enraptured by a Hawaiian steel guitar band as a teenager in Atlantic City, N.J., he signed up for the Army and asked to be shipped to the Pacific. As a private in Hawaii in the late 1920s and early '30s, he learned to play the ukulele and developed a taste for unusual foods (he would impress friends later in life by eating chocolate-covered ants and spiders as party tricks).

When he met Cutie in Los Angeles in 1937, he courted her with stories about island life. "We didn't have a lot of money, but it didn't matter," she said. "Even if we were just sitting in the car, at least we were together."

They married and built a house on a cul-de-sac in Beverlywood. There was room to raise their daughter, Carol, and son, Jan, and a pool where all the neighborhood kids could play. PopPop ran a chicken farm in Long Beach at one point, and sold mayonnaise and pickles to restaurants such as Phillipe's. Eventually he settled into the shoe business, selling last year's styles at a discount.

He and Cutie retired to Camarillo, where they were often visited by Kim, Chinta and their five other grandchildren.

Life, as Cutie sometimes says, "wasn't always Skittles and fish." The couple sank into depression after both of their children died in 2007. But their relationship with each other never faltered.

"We respect each other," PopPop said one afternoon this spring. "That's what leads to love."

"People talk about 'love, love, love,'" Cutie said, nodding. "It's about 'give, give, give.'"

PopPop, it seems, was giving to the end. A nurse who went to check on him Friday at Good Samaritan said he smiled and told her, "You are a very good nurse."

A few minutes later, he died. He was buried at Mount Sinai Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills, dressed in a green Hawaiian shirt.

It has been hard for Cutie to imagine life on her own. Over the last week, she said, she has sometimes wondered, "After he's gone, what difference does it make?"

And then she reminds herself that she still has advice to give. She plans to continue blogging, and her granddaughters are helping her write a book about the secrets to a long marriage.

Cutie picked up a photograph taken at her wedding. There were tears in her blue eyes.

"I don't cry," she said. "I really don't cry. I am here, I am healthy. Someday, I'll go meet him."

kate.linthicum@latimes.com

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
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