When Mitch Albom—syndicated Detroit Free Press sports columnist, radio host and ESPN The Sports Reporters panelist—set about writing Tuesdays with Morrie in 1995, he hoped only that sales would defray medical expenses of his beloved Brandeis sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz, who was dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Instead it became 1998's top-selling nonfiction book. A Dec. 4 TV version was No. 1 in the ratings.
SI: How does it feel to have sat atop the Nielsens for a week?
Albom: On the one hand it's phenomenal because the movie had no sex, violence or car chases. On the other, JAG came in fourth.
SI: We're seeing Morriemania.
Albom: You wouldn't believe the things I've turned down: mugs, calendars, refrigerator magnets, dolls.... But I don't want to cheapen his memory.
SI: You're also a musician who once opened for Gabe Kaplan.
Albom: True story. The oldies band I was in opens for him at Rutgers in 1976. I play piano. We finish our set. He's about to go on and says, "I need you guys to play the Welcome Back, Kotter theme as my intro." We go back onstage. The audience thinks we're doing an encore. That night I learned what four thousand boos sound like.
SI: What's the best part of having written the book?
Albom: Last week I attended two fund-raisers that raised $150,000 for ALS. It reminds me of what Morrie says in the book: "Teachers affect eternity because they never know where their influence will stop."