HONOLULU — Thousands gathered Saturday for a sunset memorial service on the beach at Waikiki for legendary Hawaiian crooner Don Ho.
On-hand to help perform the funeral service was Kaua‘i’s own Pastor and Police Commissioner Tom Iannucci, who also went on the boat to spread Ho’s ashes.
Iannucci and his wife, D’Lissa, have been long-time friends of the Ho family and personal friends of Don’s daughter Dondi Ho, a long-time Kaua‘i resident.
The service, which thousands attended, was covered live on KGMB and nationally-covered on TV.
“I basically tried to express how Don Ho was the ambassador of love and acceptance and grace — the epitome of aloha,” Iannucci said. “That he raised his family so well, because he taught his children taught to honor and respect everyone. That everyone is equal.”
Just like they have for decades, the generations of fans — some in electric wheelchairs and others in bikinis — brought flowers and reminisced about the late entertainer’s earlier years.
“I remember my mom would swoon every time she heard him sing. My dad would get so mad,” said Rick Williams, of Visalia, Calif., who was wearing a T-shirt with Ho’s unforgettable smile. “Hawaii was two things back then: Don Ho and Pearl Harbor.”
Ho, known for his catchy signature tune “Tiny Bubbles,” died April 14 of heart failure at age 76.
At an earlier private ceremony on the grounds of the Sheraton Waikiki, guests included politicians, musicians and family members all of whom where dressed in white, except for Ho’s wife, Haumea, who wore a floral orange dress and a maile lei.
Some of his 10 children sang songs during the tearful ceremony. There were also prayers and an Air Force honor guard’s 21-gun salute and presentation of a U.S. flag to the family of Ho, who was a retired Air Force pilot.
After the ceremony Ho’s ashes were taken by a double-hulled canoe about a quarter mile off Waikiki and scattered. The canoe was accompanied by dozens of surfers and a flotilla of other canoes.
Following the private ceremony, several island entertainers were to perform, with one of Ho’s songs, “I’ll Remember You,” sung by his 25-year-old daughter, Hoku.
Fans converged on every open spot of sand in Waikiki Saturday. Waves gently rolled in as Ho’s playful music could be heard coming from several outdoor bars.
Connie Algoflah flew in Thursday from Buckeye, Ariz. just to attend the memorial. She arrived to the balmy beach seven hours before the 5 p.m. tribute, to stake out a front-sand seat.
Algoflah, 43, said she had a huge crush on Ho and used to skip school as a teenager in Oklahoma to watch ”The Don Ho Show.”
“We were extremely poor in this little run-down apartment. He was my escape into something beautiful,” she said.
She finally was able to see him perform live in 1980. She watched his show every night for a week, wearing the same dress and sitting in the same spot — hoping the star would notice her.
And Ho did.
“I got lots of kisses from him,” she said, gushing like a school girl.
So did countless other women.
“He was hot,” said 62-year-old Margo Lynn, sitting on a beach chair under a large umbrella. “Don Ho wasn’t old then. Neither was I.”
Lynn first saw Ho perform in 1968. She was a nurse and would go to Duke’s to watch Ho’s 1 a.m. show and would see many celebrities.
Waikiki was special to Ho, the face and voice of Hawaii to the world for decades.
“Waikiki to me is like a magnet for the world,” Ho said in a 2005 interview with The Associated Press. “Waikiki is a beacon. It’s like a shining light.”
Ho had a breakout year in 1966, when appearances at the Coconut Grove in Hollywood helped him build a mainland following, and the release of “Tiny Bubbles” gave him his greatest recording success.
Soon he was packing places such as the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. Stars including Lucille Ball, Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra took in his shows.
Ho also became a TV star, hosting the “The Don Ho Show” on ABC during 1976-77.
Besides “Tiny Bubbles,” his other well-known songs include “With All My Love,” and the “Hawaiian Wedding Song.”
Ho had suffered from heart problems for the past several years, and a pacemaker was implanted last fall. In 2005, he underwent an experimental stem cell procedure on his ailing heart in Thailand.
In one of his first interviews after the procedure, Ho told The AP that he couldn’t wait to get back on stage. And he did, returning on a limited schedule less than two months later.
“A lot of people out there come every year to get their ’Tiny Bubbles’ fix,” he said then. “So as long as they keep coming, I might as well keep doing it.
“I retired about 40 years ago. I’m just having fun.”
• Amanda C. Gregg, assistant editor/staff writer, contributed to this report.