Winner of five Emmys for "The Danny Thomas Show," called "Make Room for Daddy" when it first went on the air in 1953, knighted by two popes and holder of the Congressional Gold Medal presented by former President Reagan, Thomas was a multifaceted comic, equally at home before TV and movie cameras and in the acrid environs of the cheap nightclubs where he began.
And the immediate reaction to his death reflected both Thomas' dedication to humanitarian causes and that versatility.
"His warmth and believability generated truth," actress Pat Carroll, who portrayed the wife of a nightclub owner on "The Danny Thomas Show," told CBS radio in 1991.
Carl Reiner, who produced the "The Dick Van Dyke Show" with Thomas, said he "was the most alive man . . . I've ever met. You'd just walk up to him and there would be energy coming out from him. The word love comes out. He exuded love. He hugged you and complimented you. He was always positive."
One of Thomas' last public appearances was Jan. 24, 1991, at a 95th birthday party for George Burns at the Hillcrest Country Club. "Danny was one of my closest friends," Burns said. "He touched all of our lives and he will be missed. . . ."
Bob Hope said, "Danny was one of the giants of the industry and what he did for St. Jude's will never be forgotten. . . . I can't understand his leaving us. . . . God must have needed some help."
In a written statement, President George H. W. Bush said Thomas' death "leaves a noticeable void in the world of American humor. We also lose a fine gentleman and humanitarian who will always be known as a man of goodwill. . . . He pioneered the family sitcom, in which we could all use the new medium of television to laugh at ourselves and our daily problems. We will be laughing with him for years to come."
Although Thomas was best known popularly as Danny Williams, the frequently absent entertainer on one of the country's longest-running television series, he seemed to think of himself as Amos Jacobs, the son of Lebanese immigrants.
A religious man but one who never evangelized his beliefs, Thomas once said, "My purpose in life is to propagate the philosophy of man's faith in man, based upon my own belief that unless man reestablishes his faith in his fellow beings, he can never establish a faith in God."
" 'Make Room for Daddy' " made me a national figure," Thomas said in 1986 on the eve of accepting his medal from President Reagan — one of only 96 in the nation's history ever handed out at the time. "But St. Jude's Hospital is the greatest accomplishment of my life, something that will live long after the celluloid turns yellow."
At fundraisers for the hospital — where an 8-year-old girl was cured of sickle-cell anemia through a then-unprecedented bone marrow transplant — Thomas would gather players from the old TV series and reminisce about the show.
But the stories quickly turned to appeals for donations from the thousands of friends and celebrities who attended the countless lunches and dinners that raised what Thomas once estimated at more than $1 billion.