Who was Morrie Schwartz? Professor who inspired 'Tuesdays with Morrie' held weekly 'living funerals'
NEWTON, MASSACHUSETTS: Morrie Schwartz, a former professor at Brandeis University, learned that he was dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1995, but he decided not to spend the rest of his time worrying about it, and instead took his impending demise as a chance to teach others to come to terms with their own endings.
Morrie decided to hold weekly gatherings at his house, which he referred to as "living funerals," in which he discussed learning to live while staring death in the face. The professor's simple action towards changing the lives of others went on to inspire the best-selling book and wildly popular movie, 'Tuesdays with Morrie.'
The teacher, from Newton, Massachusetts, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrigs, also known as ALS, a condition that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control. He decided to spend his final days helping others, so he started hosting meetings once a week in which he discussed how he learned to live while staring death in the face, according to his son Rob Schwartz. The gathering soon became the talk of the town and caught the attention of Boston Globe journalist Jack Thomas, who wrote a profile on Morrie in the newspaper in March 1995.
Morrie was then invited on the show 'Nightline' to discuss his views on death, and that is when author Mitch Albom, who was his former student, came across the segment and reached out to him. Mitch soon began attending Morrie's weekly 'living funerals,' and whereupon he wrote about them in his New York Times best-selling memoir, 'Tuesdays with Morrie', which went on to become a popular TV movie that aired on ABC in 1999. Jack, who first sparked the world's fascination with Morrie has passed away. Soon after Morrie's son Rob reflected on the impact Jack had on his father and him.
Rob, who had read Jack’s evocative and powerful human interest stories in The Boston Globe since his youth, called, Jack's death "a huge loss for the New England community and a moment of reflection for us all."
"I only met Jack Thomas briefly. But the enormity of the impact he had on my family and me is practically overwhelming," he said, adding that he never thought he would enter his residence or let alone write a lead on his father Morrie. Jack passed away on October 3 at age 83 after a battle with cancer, around the same time when 'Tuesdays with Morrie' celebrated its 25-year anniversary.
Mitch talking about Morrie, who passed away on November 4, 1995, at age 78, said "he was more than a former teacher" to him. Adding that he was closer to his favorite uncle, the author explained, "We’d been extremely close. I took every class he offered. I ate lunch with him. I visited his home. He spoke to me about life, values, love, community." The author added that he majored in sociology, Morrie's field, mostly so he could study with him all four years, and on his "graduation day he gave me a hug." "Mitch, you’re one of the good ones. Promise me you’ll stay in touch. I said I would. And then I broke that promise," he said. It was only after 16 years he saw his professor on the show and "it changed his life forever."
"What transpired, in simple order, was this: I saw the Nightline program. I made a guilty phone call. I made a visit to Morrie’s home. Then another visit. Another visit. Then visits on every Tuesday that Morrie had left in his life," he explained. Even after his disease had worsened, the author would still visit him. Sharing his experience he added, "He had visitors turn his head so he could see them, and he spoke, and they listened, and he discovered a purpose to his awful affliction: A final class on the Meaning Of Life." Furthermore, the author explained his inspiration behind writing the famous book and said his professor once confessed his biggest fear when it came to dying - leaving his family in debt.
The author was determined to get his book published to help pay for Morrie's medical bills, but was declined by publishers time and time again. "It was boring, they said, it was depressing," he recalled. "If it hadn’t been for Morrie’s need, I would have given up." The author kept knocking on doors until he found a publisher, Doubleday, that wanted to take the book. "When I told Morrie he didn’t have to worry anymore about burdening his family with debt, he cried." The book soon gained the spotlight and became the New York Times Non-Fiction Best Sellers list for 23 combined weeks while also ranked as the best-selling memoir of all time in 2006.
The book was further adapted into a movie, which was directed by Mick Jackson and starred Hank Azaria and Jack Lemmon; it was also turned into an off-Broadway play in 2002. "His teachings have affected millions," said Mitch. "His words are being taught in classrooms as far away as the Philippines and as near as a high school in Grand Blanc, where I recently Skyped with a class studying Tuesdays With Morrie as part of its curriculum." Morrie's son revealed that he recently edited a manuscript that his father wrote between 1989 and 1992, and which he is planning on releasing next spring.