By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
From Makati Med to Heritage Park, they did not end. The ordinary and the famed both came to pay their respects to this great. And when time or distance prevented, Filipinos tipped their hats to Dolphy all the way to cyberspace.
The King of Comedy’s final days saw a nostalgia trip in pop culture as his past performances made a comeback on TV.
With that, the tributes on Twitter and Facebook recalled Dolphy’s unforgettable characters and their impact on generations of viewers.
Similar sentiments echoed as our reporters took the pulse of those who showed up at the hospital and the memorial park.
It was no different back in April when another TV luminary, anchorman Angelo Castro, Jr. passed away.
The physical line was shorter, the media noise less, but the collective recollection streamed nonetheless—especially online.
Viewers old enough to remember revisited the days when newscasts in English were still the norm for late-night.
In Dolphy’s wake, Filipinos resurrected John Puruntong and Pacifica Falayfay.
The deaths of famous people conjure up not just personal memories of them, but also the zeitgeist (the spirit of the times) during their heyday in the public eye.
And now in this age of the digital village, we have realized all the more a shared loss of one less character who embodied our hopes and experiences.
With the loss of figures like Dolphy and Angelo Castro, we are also nudged to look back to their times and reflect how things have differed since.
Dolphy became a surrogate grandparent for Rose-An Dioquino, one of my contemporaries in media.
To her, he was “Lolo Kevin” Kosme, the widower from Home Along Da Riles, lead primetime sitcom in the 1990s, when Rose-An’s real grandfather died.
As Rose-An lined up with her boyfriend at the Heritage Park to view Dolphy’s remains, she met others who grew up with the comedian’s other performing personas.
One lola in a wheelchair had watched Dolphy on the vaudeville stage at the Manila Opera House.
Ro-Ann and her partner were surprised to learn how children in their line knew Dolphy: from the grainy, black-and-white Sampaguita films now getting a second life on free TV.
The lines for Dolphy from July 12 to 14 breached 36,000, according to police. They were not as long as the half million who lined up for his friend, movie action king Fernando Poe, Jr. when he died in 2004.
While other factors could count for the shorter lines, it was more than enough homage to the Comedy King for an entire nation to relive the performances that brought it laughs for more than half a century.
Dolphy’s comedy was old-school–wholesome with a few winks–starring everyday men whom the masa family could relate with.
Classic slapstick, it carried on the rolled-paper smacks, drink-spews, and contorted faces that descended from the bodabil stage.
This brand of Dolphy and his sidekicks influenced younger entertainers who have gone to other lengths in comedy but owe their careers to the King.
“(Dolphy) did not only revolutionize the entertainment industry; he also changed our national consciousness for the better,” President Benigno Aquino III said in a statement after Dolphy died.
“Through his art, (Dolphy) extended our worldviews, and gave us the ability to reflect on, value, and find joy in the daily realities of Filipino life.”
When Angelo Castro, Jr. died after his long battle with lung cancer, Malacañang lamented “the closing of an era of gentlemanly broadcasting, where erudition and dignity were the hallmarks of news and current affairs.”
True enough, ACJ (as he was known to news people) was remembered for the calm, enunciated baritone with which he anchored late-night newscast “The World Tonight”.
Dolphy had his own shorthand title: RVQ, with which he named his film production company.
ACJ and The World Tonight provided sense and composure to the tumultuous post-EDSA 1 years that abounded in coups, natural disasters, and scandal.
By going above the sensational, it tried to focus on national stories of importance. Calm for the late night, and a contrast to the at-times-raucous fare of TV Patrol and Saksi.
That was what viewers remembered in tweets and online notes after learning that ACJ died. There was no public viewing. ACJ had wanted to be cremated quickly.
They reminisced his signature extro: “Philippines, thank you and good night. Mabuhay.” A number said he had inspired them to pursue a career in news.
At ACJ’s memorial service, past associates now working for competing newsrooms shared laughs about a boss who revealed another side of humor and mentorship after the studio lights went off. Those who got to work with ACJ were thankful for the privilege.
Too bad, some said: the times of Dolphy and ACJ–and what they represented–was up.
Both men and their shows reached their height in the ‘90s, with few channels and virtually nil contest from other media platforms. Home Along Da Riles and The World Tonight were among the longest-airing TV shows.
But by 1998, Filipino increasingly became vogue–even for the staunchly English late-night TV lineup. ABS-CBN cooked up “Pulso: Aksyon Balita” to replace The World Tonight.
ACJ soon said a subdued goodbye on Channel 2. But he and The World Tonight lived on in the upstart English 24/7 news channel ANC, where it continues in the 10 p.m. timeslot—today, sans ACJ.
Dolphy’s Home Along, which then lorded Thursday nights, later felt the sting of dipping ratings in the early 2000s and had to change shape a couple of times.
By 2007, John En Shirley–the revival of Dolphy’s classic ‘70s sitcom John En Marsha–bid farewell after a year.
Dolphy still starred in the occasional movie and even dabbled in drama. Later, he left Channel 2 to top-bill a weekly fantasy show for children on TV5. But it did not enjoy the crowd-draws of his late sitcom.
Today, the only traces of English news coverage on Philippine TV are on the less-watched cable and UHF channels–ANC and Solar News, also helmed by ACJ’s previous colleagues, carrying it on.
The daily sitcom is gone and relegated to weekends, while gag shows and stand-up acts bordering on mature comedy gain more laughs.
Some viewers decried what they saw as the lack of sober reporting and of wholesome humor on TV when ACJ and then Dolphy died. They pined for the return of TV’s “good old days” as epitomized by the two.
Yet, audience preferences have now largely changed—indeed, the end of two eras.
Still, ACJ and Dolphy’s successors are indebted to the two for pioneering many of the routines and norms in news casting and comedy.
The two men thrived on reinvention and refining their craft.
ACJ shed off his acting roles (pre-1986 Pinoys might remember his character Bong from Baltic and Co.) and focused on building a top-notch news department.
He even played a pivotal role in creating TV Patrol 25 years ago. It is now the longest-running prime-time newscast. There is also a conscious effort in the media to affect learned and empowering news reporting.
Dolphy started the practice of comic characters bending genders and cast the reaction faces now staple even to kids’ shows.
Even when his health was already failing, Dolphy kept trying to connect with a new generation of audiences even if it meant adapting to new genres.
Beyond the on-cam personas that marked golden periods in Philippine popular culture, Dolphy and ACJ left a legacy of dedication to their professions.
Their time on this side of the curtain may be over, but it is hardly the end of that legacy as it is carried on by the artists and journalists they left behind.
Also read: The night Dolphy died