Stanley Kaufman, long-time Great Neck resident, decorated World War II veteran and father of alternative comedy pioneer Andy Kaufman, died last Thursday. He was 90.
Kaufman, a Brooklyn native, balanced the weight of personal tragedy - including the early death of his son Andy and being twice widowed - with a generous spirit and the ability to bring laughter to those around him, his daughter Carol Kaufman-Kerman said.
“On the one side, he was a hard working kind of guy” working at his jewelry business to support a family in Great Neck, Kaufman-Kerman said. But “he would always find his opportunities to tell jokes or clown around.”
That spirit extended to the last years of his life, when he went on what Kaufman-Kerman described as a “bucket list” trip to Africa.
“He always wanted to go on an African safari,” she said. “His mission was to make people smile. To be an ambassador on the continent of Africa to let people know that New Yorkers were nice.”
“He went to a Zulu village and would teach the ladies to thumb wrestle,” Kaufman-Kerman added.
It was a long road to Africa for Kaufman, who first lived in New York City and fought in Europe during the Second World War.
Kaufman was born in Brooklyn in 1923, grew up there and attended James Madison High School.
Kaufman earned a business degree from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and saw combat in the European theater of World War II, earning three purple hearts and service stars. Kaufman’s father owned a jewelry company where Kaufman worked.
When that business dissolved, Kaufman founded his own business, Tempo Jewelry. It was with that work that Kaufman supported his growing family in Great Neck, where he moved around the time of his son Andy’s birth, according to Kaufman-Kerman.
Kaufman-Kerman and her brother Michael Kaufman grew up at the family’s Kings Point home, attending Great Neck North High School.
Andy Kaufman, whose brand of comedy challenged audiences and earned him world-wide fame, died in 1986. Andy Kaufman won fame as Latka Gravas in the sitcom “Taxi” and developed a reputation for his experimental stand-up style, which included toying with audiences and sometimes reading “The Great Gatsby” on stage.
Stanley Kaufman persevered through the loss of his son as he cared for his wife, who had suffered a stroke, Kaufman-Kerman said.
“Life had to go on very quickly because he was her caregiver,” she said. “He had a real strong sense of resilience.”
Nor did Andy’s death shake his appreciation for the life he and his family had, according to Kaufman-Kerman.
“As much as he lost in his life, he recognized as much as he had,” she said. “He was really grateful. As much as that might have bewildered people, he found a lot to live for.”
He kept his spirit throughout his life, said Kaufman-Kerman, who summoned story after story of her father’s sense of humor - from playing his kazoo along with the cantor at his nephew’s bar mitzvah, to joining in with a New Orleans brass band at his grandson Tyler’s graduation.
Funeral services were held Monday at Riverside-Nassau North Chapel in Great Neck, and the family has requested that donations be made to Palm Beach Pet Rescue in Florida.