Stars and fans say goodbye to movie idol Peck

SUPERSTARS Michael Jackson, Harrison Ford and Lauren Bacall were among 3,000 friends, family and fans who bade an emotional farewell to Hollywood legend Gregory Peck.

The huge memorial service at Los Angeles’ Catholic cathedral followed a quiet family burial for the actor, who died last Thursday at the age of 87 and was earlier laid to rest in the crypt of the cathedral.

“He was an actor of extraordinary depth and breadth and achievement,” said Los Angeles’ archbishop Cardinal Roger Mahony, who led the one-hour service.

“But his life was not acted. He lived his life authentically. Gregory did not have to act at being an extraordinary human being.”

Michael Jackson caused a stir when he arrived at the service about 20 minutes late, wearing a red turban and matching jacket and made his way to the front of the cathedral, local media reported.

Screen legends Mr Ford, Ms Bacall and Anjelica Huston joined other celebrities including crooners Harry Belafonte and Lionel Ritchie in paying homage to the life and work of one of Tinseltown’s best-loved screen heroes.

Church officials said the 3,000-seater modernistic cathedral was packed to capacity.

Brock Peters, Mr Peck’s co-star in his signature movie, 1962’s To Kill a Mockingbird, conducted the eulogy, while the actor’s children, Anthony, Cecelia and Cary, all gave readings.

“Eldred Gregory Peck. A legend of five decades. How do we start?” asked Mr Peters, who played an unjustly accused black man defended in the movie by Mr Peck’s character, the right-minded southern lawyer Atticus Finch.

The movie, which provided Mr Peck with his greatest screen role and won him the coveted best actor Oscar, became a focus of the memorial service which ended with a visual homage to To Kill a Mockingbird.

Mr Peters, 75, delivered a moving tribute to his close friend of 40 years, remembering him as a loyal and upstanding man and a great actor.

“As an actor he left for us a legacy of more than 60 films, significant works that clearly defined his artistry,” Mr Peters said. “The legend of his humanity is a guide for greatness,” he added.

Mr Peters recalled his first contact with one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, when Mr Peck called the young actor shortly after he had been cast in To Kill a Mockingbird to welcome him aboard the production. Mr Peters was so amazed he dropped the phone.

“This was an idol of mine both as actor and as a person. He waited (while Mr Peters grasped for the phone) and I think he must have realised what happened,” Mr Peters recalled.

Also attending the service, packed with Tinseltown nobility and ordinary fans, were M.A.S.H star Mike Farrell, actors Ed Begley Jr, Tony Danza and Ford’s girlfriend, Calista Flockhart, the star of television’s Ally McBeal.

Cardinal Mahony said the consummate Hollywood star, known for playing upstanding moral heroes in his movies, was as good a person in real life as he appeared on the silver screen.

Mr Peck’s private and professional lives were characterised by authenticity, integrity and constancy, the cardinal said, adding that Mr Peck took on the role of Finch because of the importance of the movie’s message.

“He put all of his strength into that role not to win an Oscar ... but because we as Americans needed to have that story told. Many of us felt as we left the theatre after watching one of Gregory Peck’s movies ... that we walked out with something substantial and nourishing to reflect on,” Cardinal Mahony said.

In true Hollywood style, the service ended with a film-clip showing an interview with the actor in which he said he wanted to be remembered as a good husband, father and storyteller.

Mr Peck’s wife of 48 years, Veronique, attended the service, along with the actor’s four children and his grandchildren.

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