PLYMOUTH - Ted Knight's nineyear bout with cancer was perhaps his best acting job ever, friends and relatives said Wednesday.
Knight, who was 62, died at his California home on Tuesday. He never admitted to his friends and family that he would die from the illness.
"It was the best act of his life," said Marion Kovaleski, who remembers her husband's cousin as a jokester who loved just being himself, finding as much time as he could in an incredibly fastpaced lifestyle to visit his large Terryville family.
"I'm not going to die from this," is what Knight told his brother Henry when Henry visited the Terryville native at his bedside three weeks ago, Mrs. Kovaleski said. "He was in a lot of pain, but he always kept his spirits up. He never let his guard down.
"He sent us his best regards and said he was looking forward to seeing us," she said.
A memorial service for Knight will be held Wednesday at 9 a.m. at St. Casimir Church.
Kovaleski and some of Knight's other cousins had planned a big trip to California to visit relatives and Knight in midSeptember.
"We knew he was very ill but we didn't know he was going to die so quickly," Joseph Kovaleski said. "It's a shame. He was enjoying life so much."
The Kovaleskis fondly remember Knight's frequent visits to his hometown.
"He had to see everyone, especially the older relatives who were close to his mother," Kovaleski said. "He couldn't sit still."
At times, he would arrive at his cousin Joseph's house first and ask for a few hours to rest before his visits.
[Jayne Slesicki in front of Knight's childhood home]
"He used the house for cover, 'cause once everyone knew he was in town, forget it, he couldn't get time for himself," said Kovaleski. "He tried to visit everyone, it wasn't easy; there's a lot of us. He was a very much loved man."
"He was such a smiler, always had a big smile on his face," said Mrs. Kovaleski, who said Knight loved to put on his Ted Baxter "routine" whenever a stranger would come by.
"He was always mimicking people and playing practical jokes. You were never a stranger too long with him," she said.
To describe Knight, born Tadeus Wladyslaw Konopka, you also need to describe Terryville's close Polish community, the Kovaleskis said.
Raised in a twostory house at 18 Allen St., across from St. Casimir's Church, he was one of several children born to Sophie Konopka. His father was killed in an accident when he was very young, the Kovaleskis said.
Every Sunday and holiday after Mass, the Kovaleskis and other relatives would cross the street to Knight's house for a big breakfast, probably the place where Knight built an appetite for the Polish food that he so loved.
"He loved it all, the kielbasa, pierogies," Mrs. Kovaleski said. After he was diagnosed with cancer of the urinary tract he went on a strict diet and could no longer eat his favorites, she said.
The Kovaleskis remember that Knight's mother owned a small candy store near his house at the corner of Allen Street and Beach Avenue. While he and his friends were out playing or trying to earn some money caddying at the Pequabuck Golf Club, Ted was working in the store.
"He hated golf. We all loved to play, except for Ted," he recalled. Later in his career, Knight would play the part of a snobbish aristocrat and owner of a posh country club in the movie "Caddyshack."
Knight also helped his stepfather at a foundry in a building where OZ/Gedney is now located.
"He didn't like (working there)," Mrs. Kovaleski recalled. "He used to say that he was never going to work there," she said.
Knight, on his visits to Terryville, would often visit Jayne Slesicki on Beach Avenue, whose late husband was a good friend of Knight's when they were schoolchildren.
Slesicki, at one time, kept several pictures of Knight on the wall at her flower shop. Knight, like he did with several of his relatives and friends, sent Slesicki autographed pictures and kept in touch with phone calls and letters.
Slesicki remembers seeing him in his first play in Hartford.
"He was really sharp," she said. "A lot of his cousins made the trip to go see him.
"He was always so busy but he somehow found the time to stop by and buy flowers. He was a warm, beautiful man that always made you feel good. "
[The Bristol Press, Thursday, August 28, 1986]