Paul Winchell was, at the risk of sounding over-dramatic, the seed of my existence. As a child of the 50’s, I was drawn like a tractor beam to him and his sidekick, Jerry Mahoney, and spent endless hours in front of a mirror teaching myself to be a ventriloquist... a skill that my friends and family have associated with me all my life and one that I still practice today.

In awe of his talent, I began to adopt many different voices for every puppet and marionette in my ever-growing collection that included my own “semi-pro” dummy, "Jerry”. Today, my years-long ability to provide celebrity and character voices across America can be traced directly to the influence of Paul Winchell. In fact, I can accurately say that a straight line could be drawn from Paul Winchell across the entire path of my professional and personal life... and last year, a lifelong dream came true.

In April 2004, I had the incredible good fortune to be contacted by Paul’s book publisher, wondering if I’d be interested in having him as a guest on my radio talk show.

I can still feel the chill that ran down my back as I realized that I was actually going to speak to “Winch” himself. At the conclusion of what inevitably became a 90-minute interview and (pardon me, Jerry) head-spinning moment in my life, he invited me to his home in California. Months later, I found myself in an SUV, turning into his cul-de-sac, noticing a little, elderly gentleman sitting outside with a big ear-to-ear grin. It was a previously unimaginable vision. My childhood idol was waiting outside to greet me.

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As we arrived for lunch at one of his favorite neighborhood restaurants, all the servers and workers greeted him with a sincere and friendly hello as we sat down at his favorite booth in the back. We talked about all kinds of subjects including the glory days of TV and his similar "dream-come-true” moment with Edgar Bergen. Afterwards, we went back to his home in Moorpark and, minutes later, after reaching the top of the winding staircase that led to the huge area displaying all his awards, pictures and memorabilia, I met his wife, Jean, in her office... the "Tigger Room". I then turned around to face the opposite wall... and there they were - Jerry and Knucklehead sitting side-by-side. Though I dreamed of a moment like this as a child, never in all my days did I imagine that fate would afford me this chance to spend time with Paul and "the boys"... let alone getting the opportunity to actually hold Jerry. Before I left, Paul gave me a souvenir of our afternoon... a small rubber replica of “Oswald” the “upside-down” character he created by drawing a face on his chin.

We continued to correspond by e-mail and phone over the last eight months, speaking as recently as 19 days before his death. The passing of this “renaissance man” and incalculable influence on my life has greatly saddened me, but, words can't express how grateful and lucky I am that I came to know him in the last months of his life.

As the song goes at the end of each episode of “Winchell-Mahoney Time”... “friends, friends, friends... we will always be.” Rest in peace, Winch. Chidren like me everywhere will always remember you and the joy you brought us all.