By Ben Tinsley
DALLAS — Many friends and extended family members gathered Sunday to honor beloved Dallas writer-photographer Albert Goodman, who has been diagnosed with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
More than 100 people crowded into the Senior Room of the Aaron Family JCC for two hours to celebrate the life of Goodman, whose malady — the progressive neurodegenerative disease otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease — affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. There is no cure.
Goodman’s old friend, Mark Schor, was one of the first to take the podium at the celebration Sunday.
“Albert has been a very important part of our lives,” Schor said. “We are all kind of heartbroken over this.”
There was much laughter, but for many it was tinged with sadness. It wasn’t that long ago that Goodman was just “one of the guys,” playing in the 2014 Christmas Day Classic recreational football game.
The landmark 50th anniversary of that game was celebrated at the Texas Theater. Goodman played numerous times.
“Two years ago he was like everyone else,” Schor said of his friend. “But now he has to sit in his fancy wheelchair. Two years ago he was master of ceremonies at one of our events. But now? He is down. No one knows what the future will bring. No one knows what lies ahead.”
Goodman’s loved ones lauded him for his career — which extended from Washington, D.C. to Israel to Hollywood to the Dallas area.
“We’ve loved his writing, his books, his screenplays, his photography and his stand-up comedy,” Schor said as the ceremony began. “We’re going to laugh today and we are probably going to share some tears today.”
But Goodman defused many tears a few times wielding his outrageous trademark humor.
Despite having difficulty being heard, Goodman managed to bring the house down Sunday by using a microphone.
“I know the question you’re asking yourself,” Goodman asked the audience with a smile. “’If I came today, does that mean I won’t have to come to the funeral?’”
The laughter in response to Goodman’s comment was explosive. It was so loud that it was difficult to hear anything in the room for a few seconds.
Later, after the audience quieted, Goodman hit them with another zinger:
He said anyone outside a 10-mile radius of the cemetery didn’t have to attend his funeral.
The Sunday group celebrating Goodman was composed of childhood friends but also included close friends and entertainment types he worked with in California a few years back.
“I love Albert Goodman” was said more than once — actually, more than several times — during this special tribute Sunday afternoon.
There were photographs placed around the room in honor of Goodman’s work. As a writer and photographer he worked in the advertising, television, and film industries.
Albert Goodman has been married to his wife Maida for 26 years. They have three sons, Adam, Merv and Grant.
All but Adam were present at the event. Adam communicated with his father and with people in the audience by Facetime message.
Maida Goodman said the feeling of love at the gathering was amazing.
“He is a very blessed person,” she said of her husband. “This is evident by the many people who have offered their love and support. It’s incredible. We have been very blessed and I wanted to thank everyone who is here.”
As grim an idea as it may seem, the party was held so Goodman could hear the things that normally would have been said about him at a funeral, Schor explained.
“Have you ever been to a funeral?” Schor said. “If you have, you know all the nice things people say about you after you are dead and he wanted to hear that. We are doing it now because we don’t know how much longer he will be able to get out and speak.”
Goodman was diagnosed with ALS less than a year ago, friends said.
It is unknown how long it will take for ALS to run its course, said Schor, who is a career and executive coach. Schor said it is expected to last between three to five years — although no one knows for absolutely sure.
“I live by him so I am with him a lot,” he said. “I have known him since I was 16 and he was 14.”
Schor said Goodman is famous for the kind of humor he showed at the gathering, “which permeates everything.”