“They’re here tonight because they love you, Eddie!”
Comedian and longtime 94.1 WIP contributor Joe Conklin summed up the emotion in a crowded room for his longtime friend and onstage partner Big Daddy Graham, who sat on a stage at P.J. Whelihan’s in Cherry Hill Thursday night surrounded by hundreds of fans, colleagues, and Philadelphia sports figures
It was the first public event for Graham (real name Edward Gudonis) since a spinal cord injury in July left him paralyzed from the waist down. The return to the spotlight was an appropriate one for the notorious hustler — a party to celebrate the launch of a revised edition of The Great Book of Philadelphia Sports Lists thrown by his coauthor and WIP colleague Glen Macnow.
“I was afraid I was going to have a Spinal Tap moment, where the band goes on stage and no one shows up,” Graham said, jokingly referring to himself as Santa Claus as one by one, fans and friends came up to greet him.
“This sucks, being stuck in this damn wheelchair. But this, all of this. This helps,” Graham said, pointing out to the crowd.
The audience at the sold-out event was chock-full of Philadelphia sports media figures, some of whom contributed their own lists to the book. Phillies announcer Larry Andersen told a funny story about famed broadcaster Harry Kalas falling asleep on a broken-down plane. Longtime Phillies PA announcer Dan Baker offered Graham’s favorite player introduction: "Now batting for the Phillies. Number 12. Second basemannnnn Mickeeeeeeey Morandiniiiii!”
But it was Graham who was the star, cracking jokes (most of which can’t be printed in a family newspaper) about everything from his own colostomy bag to the photos of naked women that may or may not be on Spanish Eagles broadcaster Rickie Ricardo’s phone. He even toyed with the crowd’s expectation that he might get choked up on stage.
“I gotta tell you this night got so emotional for me … when I found out that Angelo Cataldi was picking up the tab,” Graham joked.
But it was the crowd who got one over on Graham, stunning the host with a standing ovation that left him visibly moved and holding back his tears.
“These things obviously help. You can see him feeding off the crowd,” fellow WIP host Howard Eskin said. “But then you have quiet moments where it’s just you and your own thoughts. It’s tough. What can you say?”
It’s certainly been a long four months for Graham and his family. It’s entirely possible the 66-year-old will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, though the sports talker holds out hope he’ll somehow regain the ability to walk.
Fortunately for Graham, he said he’ll be returning to WIP “soon,” though no official date has been planned. Due to his limited mobility, he plans on hosting his overnight show — a shift he’s handled at the station since 1996 — from a makeshift studio set up in his bedroom.
“It’s something I just have to do. I miss it too much not to,” Graham said. “Plus, believe me. I got a lot to say.”
Graham also plans to continue writing and making more public appearances. In fact, he and Macnow will attend a book signing on Saturday at Center City’s Shakespeare & Co. Books, and he plans to continue performing as a comedian alongside his Two Funny Philly Guys partner and longtime friend Conklin.
“The guy is strong. Real strong. If there’s anyone who has got the toughness to get through something like this, it’s him,” Conklin said.