Saying farewell with warmth and laughter

Times Staff Writer

When Arnold Schwarzenegger met Merv Griffin, the bodybuilder was newly arrived in California from Austria and had never been on a talk show.

But as now-Gov. Schwarzenegger recalled in a speech punctuated by laughter Friday afternoon at Griffin’s Beverly Hills funeral, the talk show host got around Schwarzenegger’s poor English and made him feel at ease.

The future governor said he knew immediately that he and Griffin would become good friends.

Similar tales of Griffin’s conversational genius and kindness abounded at the Good Shepherd Catholic Church, where Hollywood luminaries gathered to bid farewell to the entertainment tycoon and popular TV star.


Griffin, a San Mateo native and La Quinta resident, died Sunday at age 82.

At the church, police blocked off the adjacent Bedford Drive and held back curious fans as a who’s who of nearly 500 mourners, including Ryan Seacrest, Larry King, Suzanne Somers and Ellen DeGeneres, checked in at the foot of the stairs.

Vanna White of “Wheel of Fortune” and Alex Trebek of “Jeopardy!” -- stars of Griffin’s television game show creations that were part of his business empire -- were among those who attended.

Just before pallbearers carried the coffin, topped with a large bouquet of white lilies, into the church, Griffin’s good friend, former first lady Nancy Reagan, arrived and was immediately swamped by fellow mourners.


Inside the church, a choir sang “Amazing Grace.”

Griffin’s granddaughter, Farah, 12, read two Bible verses.

The service was simple, mourners said, dominated by a Catholic Mass and ending with poignant, funny speeches by Schwarzenegger and Griffin’s son Tony, memorializing his Technicolor life.

The governor joked that, although he and Griffin had nothing in common, he still tried to nurture in Griffin an interest in fitness, and Griffin attempted to teach Schwarzenegger how to act -- each, he said, to disastrous results.

Griffin, reported to have had a net worth of $1.6 billion, was also a one-man conglomerate, Schwarzenegger said, eventually branching into luxury real estate brokerage and horse racing.

But it was the man’s warmth and kindness that left the greatest impression on Schwarzenegger and on Tony Griffin.

When Tony’s daughter Farah was born, Griffin cried, Tony said.

And although Griffin resolved not to break down at the birth of his grandson, Donovan Mervyn, he sobbed when he learned the boy, now 8, had been named after him.


At age 5, Tony would ask his friends what time their dads went on air, believing every father to be as prominent as his own, he told mourners.

After the ceremony, guests poured out of the church toward shuttles headed for a reception at the Beverly Hilton, which Griffin bought in 1987 and then sold in 2003 after investing millions in renovations.

There, performers from the Young Musician’s Foundation -- which Griffin had chaired -- played and jazz musician Jack Sheldon, a frequent guest on Griffin’s talk show, performed.

The memorial’s upbeat mood was appropriate to honor Griffin, mourners said.

“He was funny, just the nicest grandfather,” said Donovan Griffin, who had served as a pallbearer with his father.

“He always remembered everyone’s names.”