(JTA)—Bob Saget, the comedian and actor famous for playing a wholesome sitcom father figure, but who never lost his flair for raunchy comedy, has died at 65.
Saget died shortly after performing in Orlando, on Saturday January 8, where he had delivered a show with his trademark mashup of dark humor and dad jokes that he first developed while misbehaving in Hebrew school.
As a performer, Saget alternated between the raunchy standup comic known for darkly funny bits peppered with curse words and the wholesome dad that he played on the 1990s sitcom Full House, bringing together his audiences of children and adults in his role as host of America’s Funniest Home Videos.
Even before he got to Hollywood, Saget honed his comedy as a misbehaving Hebrew school student at Temple Israel in Norfolk, Virginia.
“Well, a lot of it was rebellion,” Saget told the Atlanta Jewish Times in 2014. “In my Hebrew school training, I would spend more time trying to impress the girls in the class. I remember the rabbi taking me up to his office and saying ‘Saget, you’re not an entertainer; you have to stop doing this.’ I couldn’t stop.”
He never did.
After a short stint contributing to CBS’ The Morning Program, Saget was cast to play a morning show host on TV. As Danny Tanner on Full House, Saget played a widowed dad and morning show host raising three daughters in San Francisco. Saget played the role until the show ended in 1995 and reprised it in the Fuller House reboot in 2016. In 1989, Saget started hosting America’s Funniest Home Videos, which he continued until 1997.
Saget was born in Philadelphia in 1956 to Jewish parents, but spent much of his childhood in Norfolk, attending Larrymore Elementary School, Azalea Gardens Junior High School, and Lake Taylor High School, for a brief time.
“Bob was my first boyfriend, at the tender age of 13,” recalls Judy Rosenblatt. “From all that innocence of growing up at Temple Israel starting in kindergarten to the raunchy comedian he became, he always seemed so happy, even with all of his fame, and I truly hope he was. Rest In Peace my old (but way too young to die) friend.”
“I met Bob in the third grade,” says Lonnie Slone, DC. “I went over to his house for dinner all of the time and we would laugh so hard.”
“Bob had a tape recorder that he made the Chubby Chocolate Show with,” recalls Slone. “He had about 25 voices, which were the same he used in America’s Home Videos. In our Azalea Gardens Junior High School Yearbook, The Rocket, Bob wrote the funniest captions. He had a wonderful sense of humor and didn’t take things too seriously.”
While Slone says that Saget made him laugh “all of the time” he also recalls that, “Bob told me about the birds and the bees. I didn’t want to believe him, but he was right!”
Even those he babysat for thought he was fun. “We loved having our parents go out so that Bob would babysit,” recalls Mark Moss. “People don’t ordinarily remember their babysitters from when they were 11, but Bob was loads of fun. He was a one-man band, bringing over his guitar or his movie camera to shoot our skits.”
Saget’s father, a supermarket executive (he worked for Food Fair, a Pantry Pride grocery store which was located on East Little Creek Road in Norfolk), and his mother, a hospital administrator, probably would have preferred to see their son follow through on his original plans to become a doctor. But Saget’s plans changed in high school when his English teacher, Elaine Zimmerman, encouraged him to become a filmmaker. “To the next Groucho-Fellini,” she wrote in his yearbook.
After studying film at Temple University, Saget moved to Los Angeles and became a regular at the Comedy Store, the legendary comedy club famous for launching the careers of comedians like David Letterman and Jay Leno.
At the same time that Saget was becoming the most recognizably beloved father in America, he experienced his own share of tragedy within his real family. Saget lost both of his sisters relatively young; Andrea died of a brain aneurysm in 1985 and Gay of systemic scleroderma in 1994. Throughout his career, Saget frequently performed at events to benefit charitable causes and served on the board of the Scleroderma Research Foundation.
In 2021, Saget participated in a Purim spiel, or comedic reading of the Purim story, to benefit the Met Council, in which he played the villain of the story, Haman.
Saget recalled his Jewish upbringing, including his Hebrew school experience and the Jewish foods his bubbe cooked, in the foreword he wrote for the 2011 book, Becoming Jewish: The Challenges, Rewards, and Paths to Conversion, by Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben and Jennifer S. Hanin.
“I was born a Jewish boy. I was circumcised. Thank God by a professional. That is not something you want done by a novice. Or someone doing it for college credit,” he wrote.
As a teenager and through college, Saget worked at a deli. Food was an important part of Saget’s Jewish upbringing, especially his bubbe’s stuffed cabbage and mandelbread cookies.
Speaking to Jay Sanderson of the Jay’s 4 Questions podcast in 2018, Saget recalled the time he almost got fired from his deli counter job after he stuck a half-smoked cigarette in a carp’s mouth and showed it to a customer who wanted to be sure the carp was fresh. Despite the years he spent grinding carp, Saget never lost his taste for gefilte fish, though he couldn’t stomach the jarred variety.
“The food of the Jewish people stays within me. It is still within me. I am writing this with a matzah ball inside me from 1975. It is next to the kishka,” he wrote in the foreword to Becoming Jewish.
Saget said he felt a sense of spirituality on a trip he took to Israel with his parents.
“It was quite a gift and there were many spiritual things that happened throughout and that I think is still the closest I’ve felt, because you can actually see it and feel it in the air in Israel,” he said.
Having lost his sisters and both of his parents—his father in 2007 and his mother in 2014, Saget talked about the difficulty in feeling spirituality or belief in God after experiencing so much loss with Sanderson.
“I go back and forth with my belief system, by the way. I’m not the best, most observant Jewish person you’ve ever met or talked to, and yet I’m Jewish and proud to be,” he said.
–Shira Hanau and Terri Denison