Airman who inspired “Good Morning, Vietnam” film dies at 79
NORFOLK, Va. — Adrian Cronauer, the man whose military radio antics inspired a character played by Robin Williams in the film “Good Morning, Vietnam,” has died. He was 79.
Mary Muse, the wife of his stepson Michael Muse, said Thursday that Cronauer died Wednesday from an age-related illness. He had lived in Troutville, Virginia, and died at a local nursing home, she said.
During his service as a U.S. Air Force sergeant in Vietnam in 1965 and 1966, Cronauer opened his Armed Forces Radio show with the phrase, “Goooooood morning, Vietnam!”
Williams made the refrain famous in the 1987 film, loosely based on Cronauer’s time in Saigon.
The film was a departure from other Vietnam war movies that focused on bloody realism, such as the Academy Award-winning “Platoon.” Instead, it was about irreverent youth in the 1960s fighting the military establishment.
“We were the only game in town and you had to play by our rules,” Cronauer told The Associated Press in 1987. “But I wanted to serve the listeners.”
The military wanted conservative programming. American youths, however, were “not into drab, sterile announcements” with middle-of-the-road music, Cronauer said, and the battle over the airwaves was joined.
In the film, Williams quickly drops Perry Como and Lawrence Welk from his 6 a.m. playlist in favor of the Dave Clark Five.
Cronauer said he loved the movie, but he said much of the film was Hollywood make-believe. Robin Williams’ portrayal as a fast- talking, nonconformist, yuk-it-up disc jockey sometimes gave people the wrong impression of the man who inspired the film.
“Yes, I did try to make it sound more like a stateside station,” he told The AP in 1989. “Yes, I did have problems with news censorship. Yes, I was in a restaurant shortly before the Viet Cong hit it. And yes, I did start each program by yelling, ‘Good Morning, Vietnam!'”
The rest is what he delicately called “good script crafting.”
When the film was released, the presidential campaign of Democrat Jesse Jackson called asking if Cronauer would help out. The conversation died quickly after Cronauer asked the caller if she realized he was a Republican.
In 1992, George H. W. Bush’s re-election campaign taped a TV ad slamming Bill Clinton’s draft record. In the ad, Cronauer accused Clinton of lying.
“In many ways, I’m a very conservative guy,” he said. “A lifelong, card-carrying Republican can’t be that much of an anti-establishment type.”
Cronauer was from Pittsburgh, the son of a steelworker and a schoolteacher. After the military, he worked in radio, television and advertising.
In 1979, Cronauer saw the film “Apocalypse Now” with his friend Ben Moses, who also served in Vietnam and worked at the Saigon radio station.
“We said that’s not our story of Vietnam,” Moses recalled Thursday. “And we made a deal over a beer that we were going to have a movie called ‘Good Morning, Vietnam.'”
It wasn’t easy. Hollywood producers were incensed at the idea of a comedy about Vietnam, said Moses, who co-produced the film and wrote the original 30-page story.
“I said ‘It’s not a comedy — it’s the sugar on top of the medicine,” Moses said.
Writer Mitch Markowitz made the film funny, and director Barry Levinson added the tragic-comedy aspect, Moses said. Williams’ performance was nominated for an Oscar.
Moses said the film was a pivotal moment in changing the way Americans thought about the Vietnamese and the war.
Muse, the wife of Cronauer’s stepson, said the movie “helped open dialogue and discussion that had long been avoided.”
“He loved the servicemen and servicewomen all over the world and always made time to personally engage with them,” she said.
She added that he was “a loving and devoted husband to his late wife Jeane (as well as a) father, grandfather and great-grandfather.”
Cronauer attended the University of Pennsylvania’s law school and went into the legal profession, working in communications law and later handling prisoner-of-war issues for the Pentagon.
“I always was a bit of an iconoclast, as Robin (Williams) was in the film,” Cronauer told the AP in 1999. “But I was not anti-military, or anti-establishment. I was anti-stupidity. And you certainly do run into a lot of stupidity in the military.”