Still standing tall

The plaza near the bridge in downtown Chicago at Wacker and Wabash now looks a little more welcoming.

I joined family and friends of the late and legendary Chicago newspaper columnist Irv Kupcinet on Monday (what would have been Kup's 94th birthday) for the unveiling and dedication of a 9-foot-tall bronze statue of Irv which now stands at that location.

Although I had always read his entertainment column, which ran for a record 60 years in Chicago newspapers, primarily The Sun-Times, I first met Kup in 1998 at a reception for sportscaster Bob Costas. I attended his 90th birthday party, hosted by Carol Channing, in 2002 and I visited him at his Lake Shore Drive apartment a number of times to hear some wonderful stories, during the final years of his life, before his passing in November 2003. His beloved wife, Essie, preceded him in death in 2001.

My parents, Chester and Peggy, who joined me for a visit right before Christmas in 2001, still consider it one of their favorite Chicago memories.

The statue was commissioned by Irv's son Jerry Kupcinet, who works for Judith Scheindlin as a West Coast television producer for the "Judge Judy Show" and his children, David and Kari Kupcinet-Kriser. Chicago artist Preston Jackson, who created the statue, said he used David as a model to help detail the family resemblance shared by Irv and his grandson.

Those who ignored 90-plus degree temps to attend the dedication to "Mr. Chicago," as well as the champagne luncheon hosted by the family following at Hotel 71, included Illinois governor hopeful Judy Baar Topinka, radio personality Erich "Mancow" Muller, Secretary of State Jesse White, publicist Kathy Posner and Kup's longtime caregiver and companion in final years, Patrick Smith.

Surprisingly absent were Mayor Richard Daley and a number of Kup's longtime newspaper columnist colleagues, like Michael Sneed, Roger Ebert (still on the mend) and Richard Roeper, the latter who has busy this week taping a string of "Ebert & Roeper" shows with Jay Leno, who is filling in as guest movie critic in ailing Ebert's seat. I was pleased to see Sun-Times columnists Bill Zwecker and Stella Foster did attend the dedication, although skipped the lunch. Foster, who worked as Kup's assistant for 30 years, now writes a column in the same spot previously filled by "Kup's Column."

Singer Jimmy Damon sang Kup's favorite song "Chicago, that Toddlin Town," which he said he sang to Kup at his beside just before his passing.

As for the statue, it's tall, imposing, impressive and an amazing likeness, right down to a pinky ring he always wore after winning it from actress Lana Turner (right off her finger) in a poker game. Of course, he's cradling a newspaper under his arm. The Kupcinet family also announced it will launch the Irv Kupcinet Purple Heart Foundation, to resurrect Kup's longtime tradition of sponsoring a "Purple Heart Cruise" on Lake Michigan to honor our vets with an annual recognition celebration hobnobbing with celebs. The first cruise will be July 31, 2007 on what marks Kup's 95th birthday.

Now, if only the Sun-Times would take care of those early morning delivery trucks that STILL feature a huge caricature of Kup holding a coffee mug and newspaper on the side panels and the words: "Read Kup only in the Sun-Times."

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at ppotempa@nwitimes.com or 219.852.4327.

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