"I just saw the worst movie ever made," he would say. "You said that last week," we would tell him. "No, this is really the worst one." And it pained him. On the other hand, when a movie was even marginally good, he would go completely teenager nuts for it. The number of movies he described as "great" was countless, but he couldn't help it. He really, really wanted things to be great.
So many things in his life were great, he had achieved a celebrity that flabbergasted him and even if at least a third of the people who hailed him on the street would call out Gene Shalit's name, he truly loved every minute of it and truly appreciated the wonder of his enormous success. He certainly wasn't the handsomest man on television, he certainly wasn't the smoothest and he didn't have the most mellifluous voice. What he had was total authenticity. He was exactly what he appeared to be, which is why people greeted him like a second cousin. And maybe he was; Joel seemed to have relatives in every corner of the earth. Eight years ago, I visited Havana, about which I was very excited. "Look up my cousin there," he told me. " You have a cousin in Havana?" "Look in the phone book," he said, "it's the only Siegel."
Joel had been everywhere and met everyone. But of all the thrills in his life, Dylan Swansea Siegel was No. 1. "He's reading," he would say. "It's un-believable." And when Joel said "un-believable," he meant it. Everything about his son was a miracle to him, every word he uttered, every car he correctly identified on the highway, and I don't have the slightest doubt that Dylan's existence extended his own, that the reason Joel kept confounding one dire prognosis after another was Dylan's presence on this earth. And I think Ena's support and presence was an enormous comfort throughout.
We knew this was coming some day, but it's still an enormous shock. Last Tuesday, all the doctors told us that he wouldn't last the night. But as usual they had no idea who they were dealing with. All of us who knew and loved this wonderful, impossible, hilarious, stubborn soul knew that he would defy their predictions once again. All of us knew that he was still looking at that menu and nobody was going to rush him. He didn't live nearly long enough but he made damn sure you wouldn't forget him in a million years.