Ronald Reagan Froze Out Bob Hope for Supporting Gun Control and Gay Rights

The last great Republican comic still had a heart
Ronald Reagan Froze Out Bob Hope for Supporting Gun Control and Gay Rights

Bob Hope was known for a lot of things, but being “woke” sure wasn’t one of them. After all, he’s been called “the last great Republican comic.” There’s probably no stand-up comedian more associated with supporting the U.S. military than Hope, courtesy of his countless USO tours. Congress even named him an honorary veteran with a shiny medal, thanks to his 50 years of entertaining the troops. But many on the right turned on Hope anyway, reports The Nation, thanks to his support of gay rights and reasonable gun control.

Don’t get us wrong, it wasn’t exactly like Hope was marching in the streets. His approval of gay rights generally showed up as 1970s jokes at the expense of Anita Bryant, the wackadoodle orange-juice pitchwoman who rallied against homosexuality in all shapes and forms. 


Topical as always, Hope took soft pokes at the national controversy with toothless one-liners like, “They’re naming a street after Anita Bryant in Miami. Of course, it’s one-way.” 

That irked the religious right, which started pestering Hope’s main corporate sponsor, Texaco. The oil giant got in Hope’s ear, asking him to ease up a little. Hope did pull back on the Bryant jokes but probably more because her nonsense was fading from the headlines than from sponsor pressure. And Texaco couldn’t stop Hope, whose daughter had privately come out to him as gay, from participating in an interview supporting basic rights. “I believe what these people do behind closed doors is their business,” he explained. “I still think jobs should be based on talent, not whether a person is homosexual or heterosexual.” Controversial!

Hope’s tolerance made Republicans wary, but it was another stand that caused newly elected President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy to completely cut ties with the comedian. In the aftermath of the shootings of Pope John Paul II and Reagan himself, Hope cried out for common-sense gun control. “I’m for gun registration,” Hope told The Washington Post. “I don’t think any jerk that’s coked up or anything should be allowed to walk in a store and buy a gun and turn around and shoot 19 people, you know?”

Whoops. Reagan, who’d been elected with support from the gun lobby, would no longer see Hope. Vice President George H.W. Bush couldn’t find the time to talk to him at West Point. Nancy canceled a planned luncheon. Hope had been visiting presidents for decades, but suddenly the Oval Office doors were closed. Piss off the NRA? Then no access to Reagan or his cronies, who no longer had any use for the last great Republican comic.

As for gay rights, Hope was an awkward advocate. During a time when Reagan refused to even say the word “AIDS,” Hope co-hosted AIDS research benefits with Elizabeth Taylor. Then he’d turn around and tell jokes like this: “The Statue of Liberty has AIDS. They don’t know if she got it from the mouth of the Hudson or the Staten Island ferry.” At least he apologized for the joke when he found out how hurtful it was. 

That was the story of the last years of Hope’s life, alternately speaking out against gay bashing while telling f-slur jokes on The Tonight Show, an aging comic who no longer could see where the line was. Hope is proof that the culture wars have been waged for decades, as even his 2003 funeral was picketed by right-wing religious zealots carrying signs that read, “God hates Hope for supporting the sinful sodomite GLAAD agenda.”  

At least you tried to have a heart, Bob.

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