The first time I saw Dom DeLuise on the set of Cannonball Run II, he was wearing a nun’s habit. It was 116 degrees out and there he was in a nun’s habit. When I first got there, I couldn’t believe that I was meeting all of these people who I’d gone to see in the theater as a little girl: Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, and Shirley MacLaine, who was my idol. But there was something about Dom — even surrounded by all of those famous stars — he managed to be the center of attention because he just was so damn funny. He had that kind of Robin Williams, non-stop crazy brain that would try anything if he thought it would get a laugh. He’d grab you and twirl you and hump you and pick you up.
The script for Cannonball was pretty much thrown out the first day. There’d be a couple of lines here and there that you’d use, but then you’d just ad-lib and riff. The movie isn’t nearly as good as the experience was. Just trying to keep up with Burt Reynolds and those guys was insane. The best part was watching the dailies every night. It was like watching home movies. And the star of the show was always Dom. You never knew what he’s come up with next. Every take was different. And Burt would constantly be spitting out his drink because Dom was so funny.
I loved the relationship between Burt and Dom because you could see they were so yin and yang. Burt was so cool and easy and laid back, and Dom is just a ball of crazy kinetic energy that just doesn’t stop. They were each other’s complements. Because you don’t get smoother than Burt Reynolds, especially during the Cannonball Run period, and you don’t get wilder than Dom DeLuise.
I think what I’ll remember most about Dom is his laugh. That rolling, rolling laugh. It starts with a big burst of energy and then this girlish squeal comes pouring out. His laugh was aerobic. It pulsated his entire body. When you met him you knew he was someone who totally enjoyed life. He would envelope you and hug you and you’d be squished, but you didn’t mind because it was Dom. He loved to talk about food, clothes, dancing, opera, philosophy, and, of course, his family. His wife Carol was always there to wipe his brow because Dom was always sweating. He was a sweetheart and he just loved those boys of his. I think that’s why he could tether out to such insanity — because he had such a strong base with his family at home.
I really wish I was talking about Dom under happier circumstances. I feel bad for people out there who were too young to experience Dom. Thank God for YouTube. All these younger kids come up to me all of the time and ask what Andy Kaufman was like because of Taxi. Now people can pull up clips of Dom being Dom and he’ll have a following forever. That makes me happy. (As told to Chris Nashawaty)