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Cagney Remembered as America’s Yankee Doodle Dandy

April 1, 1986 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ James Cagney took his final bow on Tuesday, remembered at his funeral as America’s Yankee Doodle Dandy and surrounded by friends, family and fans in the small church where he was confirmed nearly 76 years ago.

″At the end of life we will all be judged on love. In that department, Jimmy Cagney attained a different kind of stardom,″ said the Rev. John Catoir, the head of the Christophers Catholic organization.

″As a condemned convict in ‘Angels with Dirty Faces,’ he said he never had a heart. But he was wrong - America loved him because he always had a heart,″ Catoir said.


The funeral for the actor, who died Sunday at his farm at the age of 86, was a simple, hour-long service attended by Gov. Mario Cuomo, Mayor Edward I. Koch, and pallbearers including boxer Floyd Patterson, dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, director Milos Forman and actor Ralph Bellamy.

Cardinal John J. O’Connor interrupted the service to climb down from the altar, approach Cagney’s wife of 64 years, Willy, and apologize for a slight by a priest against her husband many decades ago.

Cagney apparently carried with him throughout his life a ″wound,″ O’Connor said, inflicted by a priest who failed to arrive after the death of Cagney’s father. ″I want to tell you how deeply sorry I am,″ O’Connor said.

Mrs. Cagney, wearing dark glasses, cried a bit and was supported on either side by Marge and Don Zimmermann, who live at the farm.

Most of the 350 mourners who attended the service at St. Francis de Sales Church were workers from the Cagney farm in Dutchess County and neighborhood people who wanted to say farewell to the man who rose from their midst when Yorkville was a tough neighborhood and went on to star in 64 movies.

″It’s the last of the great actors,″ said Margaret Golden, who has lived near the church for 56 years. ″There will never be another. I live in the neighborhood, and I’m glad he came back.″

A tenor sang a Cagney favorite, ″Danny Boy.″ And Catoir recalled Cagney’s work with the Christophers, a Catholic group that uses the mass media to spread church teachings. In 1954, Cagney made his television debut in a Christophers production, as a dying professor who recalls his good works.

″James Cagney was America’s Yankee Doodle Dandy - engaging and jaunty - a natural-born song-and-dance man,″ Catoir said, referring to the actor’s Oscar-winning role as George M. Cohan in ″Yankee Doodle Dandy.″

Cagney ″was not the most pious man that crossed the world’s stage,″ Catoir said, but ″he was good to the core of his being; nothing at all like the gangsters he played in Hollywood movies where he brought chilling insights into the very nature of evil.″

″He was a life-long companion to millions throughout the world, and he will be remembered by most with a smile, and with gratitude,″ he said.

When the hearse departed for Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, mourners gathered in the street to give Cagney a last round of applause.

At the cemetery, where about 75 fans turned out, Cagney’s daughter, Casey, said she was surprised by the warm response to her father’s death.

″When I came out of the church today, and they applauded, I didn’t know what to do,″ she said. ″The love is just overwhelming. I never really realized it. I don’t look at him as a star. He was my father.″