Adrian Cronauer, the Pittsburgh-born military disc jockey who inspired Robin Williams’ Academy Award-nominated role in the film “Good Morning, Vietnam,” has died, family members confirmed Thursday.
Cronauer died Wednesday in Troutville, Va. after suffering from a “long illness,” Mary Muse, the wife of Cronauer’s stepson, told The Associated Press. He was 79.
The former Air Force DJ spent 21 years in television, advertising, teaching and freelancing before going into law. He later served as an adviser in the Pentagon.
Cronauer had lived for years in Virginia, but he grew up in Western Pennsylvania
The son of a steelworker and a teacher, Cronauer spent his childhood in Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood and the eastern suburb of Penn Hills when it was known as Penn Township.
Before enlisting in the Air Force, Cronauer attended the University of Pittsburgh, where he said he founded Pitt’s radio station.
“Pitt didn’t have a broadcasting major,” Cronauer told the Tribune-Review in 2014, when he was 75. “The closest I could come was a speech major, where I would be helping people cure lisps and stutters. So I dropped out and went to work for an ad agency for about a year. Then I went to American University, which did offer a broadcasting degree.”
During his service as a U.S. Air Force sergeant in Vietnam in 1965 and 1966, Cronauer opened his Armed Forces Radio show with “Goooooood morning, Vietnam!”
Williams made the refrain famous in the 1987 film, loosely based on Cronauer’s time in Saigon.
“Yes, I did try to make it sound more like a stateside station,” he told The AP in 1988. “Yes, I did have problems with news censorship. Yes, I was in a restaurant shortly before the Viet Cong hit it. And yes, I did start each program by yelling, ‘Good Morning, Vietnam!’”
Cronauer said he didn’t meet Williams during the movie’s filming because director Barry Levinson didn’t want the two of them interacting.
“Robin was an intuitive mimic,” Cronauer told the Trib. “Levinson was concerned that if we met while we were still filming, Robin would subconsciously do an impression of me. When we were introduced after the movie was finished, Robin said, ‘I’m glad to finally meet you.’ I said, ‘I’m glad to finally meet me, too.’ ”
After the film’s release, the two exchanged holiday cards, and, in 1991, Cronauer was among about 300 invitees to Williams’ 40th birthday party at his California ranch.
Cronauer described feeling ‘gobsmacked’ when he learned Williams hanged himself at his California residence on Aug. 13, 2014.
“Robin was always on; he was always doing a routine for someone,” Cronauer told the Trib shortly after Williams’ death. “The only time that my wife and I ever saw him let that down was with his own little kids. They gave him unconditional love. They were no threat to him.”
Cronaeur described himself as “a bit of an iconoclast, as Robin (Williams) was in the film,” the former military DJ told the AP in 1999.
“But I was not anti-military, or anti-establishment,” Cronauer said. “I was anti-stupidity. And you certainly do run into a lot of stupidity in the military.”
Cronauer also was a Mensa member and self-professed “lifelong card-carrying Republican.”
In 1992, George H.W. Bush’s re-election campaign taped a TV ad slamming Bill Clinton’s draft record. In the ad, Cronauer accused Clinton of lying. He supported Bob Dole’s unsuccessful presidential bid in 1996, and George W. Bush’s successful re-election campaign in 2004.
Cronauer worked in communications law before moving on to handle prisoner-of-war issues for the Pentagon.
His family members have asked that in lieu of flowers, people may pay their respects by making a donation to a nonprofit organization that supports veterans.
The Associated Press contributed.
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.
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