Man Who Aided Many Feted On 100th Birthday

By Christine Clarridge
Seattle Times© staff reporter July 2002

It didn't take but a second or two before the one-time film extra and vaudeville performer was on stage once again.

Doug Richardson hobbled out of his bedroom at the assisted-living quarters in Edmonds where he's lived the past two years, looked around at the crowd of 60 or so admirers, friends and relatives and began cracking jokes. 

"Thank you all for coming," he said, leaning on his walker, eyes sparkling. "I never realized I had so many enemies."

Richardson, who was an entertainer in his youth, a jack-of-all trades in his middle years and a legend in local Alcoholics Anonymous groups for the past five decades, was feted on his 100th birthday this week by scores of people he's influenced over the years, many of whom still visit him and come for counsel.

"When I met him he had 40 years' sobriety, but he made me feel like he had one day, just like me," said Dave Jager of Seattle, who knows Richardson through AA. "He taught all of us the importance of welcoming the new guy."

Bill Smith of Seattle met Richardson 21 years ago when the older man was punching a speed bag in a boxing gym at the Elks Club in Lake City. Richardson is still Smith's AA sponsor and Smith visits him a couple of times a week.

"He can still come up with a good answer," said Smith. 

Richardson immigrated to Seattle from Tralee, Ireland, when he was about 10. A natural performer and storyteller, Richardson made his way to Hollywood as a young man, working as an extra in several movies.

By the mid-1940s, he owned a number of nightclubs, including one with Gene Autry. He entertained World War II troops as a singer, dancer and comedian at USO shows.

He traveled the country with his "world-famous talking puppets" and won the acclaim of Eleanor Roosevelt as the most enchanting of children's entertainers, as reported by the Daily News of Los Angeles on Nov. 18, 1954. 

He played Zingo the Clown at the World's Fair in Seattle in 1962. His exploits have been widely reported in other papers as well, including the Los Angeles Times, several New York papers and The Seattle Times, which in 1963 called him the heartthrob of Seattle Center.

He married and had two sons, worked on railroads, did public relations and was a gemologist and a reflexologist. 

But Richardson's drinking intensified over the years, according to his 75-year-old son, Daly, and midway through his entertainment career, he gave it up, joined AA and moved back to Seattle. 

He still occasionally attends AA, going almost exclusively to first-step meetings, where recovering alcoholics take their first shaky steps toward sobriety.

"He was always the first one to hold out his hand," said Smith.

"What he did was put a smile on the faces of a lot of people who probably hadn't smiled in a while," said another friend, Kevin McLean.

"His jokes are still making the circles," said yet another. 

At his party this week, many of his best were trotted out again. McLean recounted the ones about the dancing girls, the hotel in Vegas, the donkey in Korea.

When Richardson heard his stories were being retold, he charged toward the offenders: "Hey! I tell the jokes around here!"

"We have been blessed to know Doug," said Sonny Grazzette, 76, a former boxer. "Knowing a guy like him is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. He's a wonder."

Christine Clarridge can be reached at xxx-xxx-xxxx or [email protected].

Seattle Times©

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