Hal Haig Prieste

Hal Haig Prieste

Fresno, Fresno County, California, USA
Death 19 Apr 2001 (aged 104)
Camden, Camden County, New Jersey, USA
Burial Inglewood, Los Angeles County, California, USA
Plot Pineview D
Memorial ID 77995617 · View Source
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Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA) - April 27, 2001 Deceased Name: Hal H. Prieste, 104, Olympic medalist and Keystone Kop Hal Haig Prieste, 104, America's oldest living Olympian and one of the original Keystone Kops of silent films, died April 19 at the Sunbridge Health Care Center in Camden.

Active throughout his life, Mr. Prieste had been exercising the day before his death when he fell.

He was taken to a hospital and pronounced fine, said Carol LaMaina, who, with her husband, Nick, had been Mr. Prieste's care-giver for the last decade. That night, he died in his sleep. The cause of death was listed as coronary stenosis.

Mr. Prieste had lived in Camden for the last two years and previously lived in Lindenwold for five years and Voorhees for five years. Before that, he lived in Philadelphia.

He was born and raised in California, where he took up diving at the Los Angeles Athletic Club.

Although his 1920 Olympic bronze medal gave him his greatest fame, it was his humor and pratfalls that many will remember.

Even before he made the Olympic team, Mr. Prieste's comedic career had carried him to the heights in silent pictures with the Keystone Kops. He also performed with Harold Lloyd in the movie Why Worry? and on vaudeville circuits for years.

Mr. Prieste's stage humor included comedy diving at swimming exhibitions and vaudeville and Broadway pantomimes that often made fun of athletes in training.

He learned to be a performer early in life. As a boy in Long Beach, he mastered the art of diving for pennies and quickly learned that a little acrobatic stunt would attract more applause and more pennies.

At the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium, Mr. Prieste's first three attempts in platform diving left him in last place. Five near-perfect dives then propelled him to the bronze medal.

And the vaudevillian in him was bound to surface sooner or later. As Mr. Prieste came forward to receive his medal from Belgium's King Albert, he suddenly fell - a pratfall that won him a smile from the king.

Mr. Prieste performed one more stunt at the Olympics - one that would remain a secret for nearly 80 years. On a dare just after the closing ceremonies, he shimmied up the flag pole in the middle of the Olympic stadium and snatched the Olympic flag, one of the first to bear the five interlocking rings.

Mr. Prieste had accepted the dare from a teammate, swimming champion Duke Kahanamoku. The two remained fast friends, and Mr. Prieste even accepted Kahanamoku's invitation to visit Hawaii and perform with the Hawaiian swim team shortly after the Olympics.

The flag remained with Mr. Prieste, in a suitcase, until last year. It even survived a Philadelphia hotel fire that destroyed almost everything Mr. Prieste owned. And it would bring him one more brief golden moment of Olympic fame.

Several years ago, when Mr. Prieste learned that the flag had historical significance and that the International Olympic Committee was seeking it, he decided to return the flag, worth perhaps a quarter-million dollars, to its rightful owners.

Grateful Olympic officials agreed to fly Mr. Prieste to the 2000 Sydney Olympics for a presentation ceremony.

"He was absolutely amazing. His vitality and the way he responded to all the requests for interviews" was incredible for a much younger man, let alone the oldest American Olympian and almost certainly the world's oldest surviving Olympic medalist, said Cindy Stinger, manager of the U.S. Olympic Committee's alumni relations.

Before interviews, he would do his exercises and then, yes, perform. He had taken his favorite prop to Sydney: a hockey stick.

"He was his own little traveling road show," Stinger said. He would take his hat off, slick up the top of his bald head, balance the hockey stick atop his dome, and set it spinning.

"It was absolutely unbelievable," Stinger recalled.

Mr. Prieste's Olympic moments included taking part in the 1996 Olympic torch run as it passed through New Jersey.

He was the widower of Hazel G. Stoner Prieste.

He is survived by a niece, Lenore Turrill; a great-niece; and a great-great-nephew.

Friends may call from 7 to 9 p.m. today at the Eugene J. Zale Funeral Home, 712 N. White Horse Pike, Stratford. Burial will be in Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood Park, Calif.

Obit provided by Find A Grave contributor Randall Jensen.

Wikipedia article on Hal Haig Prieste

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  • Created by: Chris Mills
  • Added: 9 Oct 2011
  • Find a Grave Memorial 77995617
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Hal Haig Prieste (23 Nov 1896–19 Apr 2001), Find a Grave Memorial no. 77995617, citing Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood, Los Angeles County, California, USA ; Maintained by Chris Mills (contributor 46897617) .