Harry Kullijian, a former Northern California city councilman who married Broadway star Carol Channing some 70 years after the childhood sweethearts lost contact, has died on the eve of his 92nd birthday.
Kullijian collapsed at the couple's Rancho Mirage home after suffering an aneurysm, according to family spokesman Harlan Boll. He died Monday at a nearby hospital, Boll said.
Kullijian met Channing while attending middle school in San Francisco, where they dated for a few years before going off to college. The pair lost touch for decades _ as Channing became a musical theater hit with her Tony-winning role in "Hello, Dolly," while Kullijian went to war and then local politics. But they never forgot about each other.
In her 2000 memoir, "Just Lucky, I Guess," Channing reflected on her first love, saying the years spent with him were the happiest of her life.
"The leader of the school band was Harry Kullijian. I was so in love with Harry I couldn't stop hugging him," she wrote.
A mutual friend who read the book urged the recently-widowed Kullijian to call Channing. They got engaged two weeks after their reunion and married three months later, when Channing was 82 and Kullijian 83.
"We went on talking from the last conversation when we were 15 years old," Channing said of their first meeting in seven decades, in a 2003 interview on CNN's "Larry King Live." "We just picked up from that. The years between disappeared, just disappeared."
Born in Turlock, Kullijian settled in nearby Modesto after fighting in World War II and the Korean War and went into walnut farming and real estate. He served two terms on the Modesto City Council, and then spearheaded a local campaign against pornography.
After he married Channing, the couple formed the Channing-Kullijian Foundation to support arts education in schools, and he took over as her manager. The couple split their time between homes in Modesto and Rancho Mirage.
"We go to these celebrity events and, of course, everyone knows and loves Carol and wants to talk to her," Kullijian told The Modesto Bee in October. "Then they point to me and ask, `Who's he?' So I've adopted a new name: Who's he? It doesn't matter who I am; it only matters that I'm helping someone else."
Kullijian is survived by Channing; his two children with late wife Gerry Amos, John and Leslee; five grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.