2014 has been sadly abundant with the deaths of beloved celebrities, and we couldn’t get through the final day of the year without one last kick in the pants: on December 31st, Edward Herrmann passed away at the age of 71 after suffering from brain cancer. Herrmann leaves behind an incredible career: he’s played presidents and governors, Rockefellers and Carnegies, headmasters and principals, Lou Gehrig and Ezra Stiles, Richie Rich’s dad and the head vampire posing as mom’s mealy-mouthed boyfriend. Herrmann has portrayed FDR three separate times, he’s ruled the boards on Broadway and he’s narrated countless documentaries, films and commercials with his wonderful, rich voice.
But his role that has meant the most to me, and I suspect to many of you, is as Rory Gilmore’s beloved grandpa.
So as a tribute to this brilliant, warm, complex patriarch, here are his best moments on Gilmore Girls:
Emily forces Richard to take Rory golfing with him, and he’s crotchety about it at first – until he gets to know his granddaughter for the first time, and we see his pride as he discovers what an intelligent and adventurous and composed young woman she is. It’s the beginning of one of the most touching relationships of this show.
Rory: “Do you get to travel a lot?”
Richard: “Quite a bit.”
Richard: “I suspect you have a yen for travelling.”
Rory: “I’m up to my ears in yens.”
Richard: “Any particular place you’d like to go?”
Rory: “Hundreds of places. Paris, Rome, London, Prague, Istanbul, Fez — Have you ever been to Fez?”
Richard: “I can’t say that I have.”
Rory: “I want to go to Fez.”
Richard: “I think travelling for a young girl is a very important thing. Your mother never got a chance to travel much.”
Rory: “I know. She talks about that all the time.”
And later, he hands her an envelope: “For Fez,” he tells her.
Richard has a touch of angina, and Emily handles her anxiety the way she always does: by making every detail perfect for him. He tries to talk to her about what she must do in the event that she outlives him, but she won’t hear of it – and under her fierce, beautiful love, Richard surrenders, and promises that she may go first.
Christopher and his parents join Lorelai and Rory for Friday night dinner, and it’s as terrible an idea as that sounds. Mr. Hayden insults Lorelai terribly, and Richard grows furious, throwing him out of the house. But later, when Lorelai thanks him, Richard reveals the depth of his and Emily’s heartbreak after Lorelai ran away from them.
After a both brief (in reality) and very long (in terms of how it felt) retirement, Richard is inspired to open his own business after consulting on Rory and Paris’ locker first aid kit project. He’s rejuvenated by the energy of these young ladies, particularly Paris, with whom he shares an instant and hilarious camaraderie.
Richard’s new business is in gear, but he needs an executive assistant – and here comes Lorelai to ease him into the transition! Richard admires Lorelai so openly in this episode. He’s really impressed by her competence – and when he eventually has to release her back to her real job, he’s so sad to lose her.
Lorelai graduates from business school, and Rory invites Richard and Emily without telling her, knowing that they would want to be there. They are so overwhelmed with pride to finally, after all of these years, see their brilliant, beautiful daughter cross the stage and receive a diploma.
And then, when Lorelai sees them in the audience, she’s really touched by their emotion. It’s a moment of such healing for these three stubborn, darling people.
Richard’s going nutty over a casserole recipe from his childhood – Johnny Machete! – but not nearly as nutty as he goes when he learns that his beloved granddaughter is attending his beloved alma mater – and with the blessing of his beloved daughter, no less!
Rory graduates Chilton and thanks her mother and her grandparents in her eloquent speech. We’re not crying. Not crying!
Richard and Emily invite Rory (and Lorelai invites herself) to the big Harvard-Yale game, a kickass tradition that includes a fun flask and the fanciest tailgating party in the history of football. I want to tailgate with Richard and Emily so hard.
Richard’s grief over the loss of his firecracker mother Trix is heartbreaking to behold, but it’s also completely hilarious because Edward Herrmann had comic timing in spades to go along with all that gravitas.
Richard and Emily have been alienated for too long, and the first stirrings of their reconciliation make for some of the best moments between these two on the show. When they find a dog on their patio during a snow storm, they work together to make him (or her?) comfortable and find him (or her?) a home. It is, quite simply, THE BEST.
Richard’s speech to Emily at their vow renewal reception reveals why he is just the greatest: thoughtful, funny, wry and always likely to put Emily’s wants above his own. “Well, Emily, for tonight, and tonight only, my name is Bill, and this is our song.” Plus he pulls out some pretty sweet dance moves, that slickster.
Richard finally, finally, realizes his and Emily’s mistake in sheltering Rory during her rebellion, and he rescues Lorelai’s dollhouse – which Emily is getting ready to trash just to spite her – and delivers it to Lorelai in his attempt to make amends.
It’s safe to say that any time Lorelai or Rory graduates, it’s going to be a banner moment for Richard Gilmore. But this one moves me more than the rest: as Lorelai frets over the time, and photos, and Emily’s chair, and a dozen other things, he tells her in that warm, firm way he has: “Lorelai, I will note the time. I will take the photo. You just sit there and enjoy your daughter’s graduation from Yale. This is as much your moment as Rory’s. Enjoy it.” Lorelai cries, and so do we all.
My favorite Richard moment of the entire series. He keeps trying to tell Lorelai how proud he is of her, and Emily keeps cutting him off because she is embarrassed by sentiment, but he finally gets it out: “It takes a…a remarkable person to inspire all of this.” Bonus: Taylor’s gross speech, and Rory’s lovely speech.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few of your favorites here, so please list them below. And then take a moment to read this wonderful memory from Amy Sherman-Palladino about Edward Herrmann, an actor whose prestige placed him squarely out of Gilmore Girls‘ league, but who joined the show anyway because he saw something important in it.
Thank you, Mr. Herrmann, for taking that chance, and for giving us Richard Gilmore.