Hyman Kotkin was a man loved by many, and a man of many loves. Among those loves-in no particular order, of course-his wife of over 58 years, Rebecca; being impeccably well dressed; hugging anyone who needed a hug; and flashing his great, big, white smile. But there were perhaps two things he loved more than anything: the sun and his son.
Tears were shed around the world last week when news spread of Hy's death at the age of 83. Literally, around the world. Because, in addition to the extraordinary impact made by Hy on the people of Metuchen, New Jersey, and later, San Diego, California, he touched many lives around the globe. With the wink of an eye or a flash of those Tinseltown teeth, he was remembered-and adored-by everyone he met.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 9, 1922, Hy Kotkin wanted nothing more than a life of fame and recognition. After serving as an Aerial Engineer during WWII. Hy wanted to be an actor, you see, and he had the chops and the matinee-idol looks to pull it off. In fact, when Tony Curtis met him several years ago the actor grabbed Hy's face, studied it for a moment, and said, "If you were acting in my day, I would have been finished!".
Much to Hy's chagrin, however, he wasn't an actor. Out of loyalty and responsibility to his wife and only child, David, Hy turned down a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and went into retail, settling his family in Metuchen, New Jersey, where he owned and operated the men's haberdashery, Korby's. But this never seemed like settling to Hy: He approached his business as he did everything and everyone he came across in life, with boundless loyalty and passion. In the end, these characteristics may well be Hy's legacy-his passion; his loyalty.
"He thought of anyone and everyone other than himself," said his son David, who at age 18 dropped "Kotkin" and picked up the stage name "Copperfield." Given his own dreams of life as an entertainer, Hy didn't think twice when David approached his father as a teenager, declaring he wanted to be a magician. He supported his son without question.
Some three decades later, with Rebecca by his side, Hy would sit in the audience night after night and watch tens of thousands of people cheer his son. Nothing made him prouder. In fact, Hy became so well known among his son's fans that he would graciously stay in the audience after the show to sign autographs. When approached, he would proudly smile and sign, "David Copperfield's Dad.".
Hy accompanied his son around the world half a dozen times, meeting heads of state, countless celebrities and at least five U.S. presidents-all of them taken by his legendary charm. He also took great pleasure in running the David Copperfield Fan Club, which, amongst other things, supports Project Magic, a charity established to use magic as a form of therapy in a thousand hospitals in 30 countries around the world.
At a private funeral service on Sunday, all in attendance wept at the final farewell to a true, old-school gentleman. Hy will always be remembered for the extraordinary love he showed Rebecca, David and all of us who had the distinct honor to know him. He will always be remembered as the dashing, perfectly tanned man who sacrificed his dream to see that of his son his come true. More than anything else, though, we will miss Hy's rich voice, trusting grin and comforting hug.
Hy was laid to rest on the type of day he enjoyed most-on a glorious San Diego afternoon. What better way for this extraordinary man to spend eternity-resting peacefully under the Southern California sun.
- Daniel Peres