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, confirmed Thursday that Cronauer died Wednesday after a long illness. He had lived in Troutville, Virginia.
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. 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 1988. “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. He spent 21 years in television, advertising, teaching and freelancing before attending the law school at the University of Pennsylvania and going into the legal profession.
He worked in communications law and went on to handle 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.”