The Dimaggio Nobody Knew
Joe DiMaggio was our first modern media star, an athlete of extraordinary gifts and grace, a personage of regal dignity, an icon of American glamour. He was also the loneliest hero we have ever had.
In the end, he was free of the crowds that cheered and revered him, the crowds that made his fortune and that he detested. He always hated it when fans would interrupt him in restaurants, stop him on the street, ask him to sign. Now, at last, with the help of a roaring squadron of San Francisco motorcycle cops, Joe DiMaggio would make his last trip on earth nonstop, beyond all annoyance, in perfect privacy. Perfection was always the goal. Joe's brother Dominic, the old Red Sox center fielder, ruled that only family could say goodbye in the grand old church. Dom said that's what Joe would have wanted. Yet even among those 60 mourners, there were many whom Joe had pushed away in life…. That pallbearer with the gray ponytail—that was Joe DiMaggio Jr., whom Big Joe bitterly cut out of his life. Father and son never spoke. Even Dommie, the youngest and sole surviving brother, didn't speak with Joe for years. Only as lung cancer was killing Joe at 84 did the brothers try to repair the breach….
That was the point: he died as he lived … without intimates of any sort, an object of feverish curiosity, in impenetrable secrecy, swaddled in myth, without even a formalistic nod to the public's right to know. Dominic was correct: that's what Joe would have wanted … as the family in the church, the fans in the morning chill on the street who politely applauded his casket, as the nation as a whole looking in on TV … said goodbye to the loneliest hero we have ever had.
Source: Richard Ben Cramer. Newsweek, March 22, 1999, p. 52.
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