Originally created 01/26/99

DiMaggio watched TV report of his death



Nobody was more surprised than Joe DiMaggio when he saw a television report that he had died.

"He was livid," his lawyer and neighbor Morris Engelberg said Monday. "Then I made him laugh. I said, `Joe, we must be in heaven together."'

The two were watching a tape of "Gunfight at the OK Corral" -- DiMaggio's favorite Western -- at the baseball great's home in Hollywood, Fla., on Sunday.

They happened to stop the tape just when the report appeared as a "crawl" across the screen during "Dateline NBC."

NBC ran another crawl about 20 minutes later, saying its previous report was inaccurate. The network later said a technician in the New York control room inadvertently sent the item.

NBC delivered an apology to DiMaggio to Engelberg's office on Monday, spokesman Cory Shields said.

DiMaggio, recovering from pneumonia and lung cancer surgery on Oct. 12, already was upset by a story in the New York Daily News that described him as bedridden and in grave condition.

The lead doctor on the team that treated the 84-year-old Hall Famer during his 99-day hospital stay disputed the Daily News report.

"He is progressing nicely since his discharge from Memorial Regional Hospital one week ago," Dr. Earl Barron said in a statement to The Associated Press. "Over the weekend, his physical therapy has progressed to the point that he is walking. Reports of his condition worsening are not true."

Engelberg, who lives next door to DiMaggio and visits him at least once a day, called the newspaper report "absurd."

"He's walking. He's taking therapy." Engelberg said. "And he will be at opening day."

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said last week when DiMaggio was discharged from the hospital, "Joe will certainly toss out the first ball."

The Yankees open their home schedule April 9 with a day game against the Detroit Tigers.

"That's my goal now -- to have Joe at opening day," Engelberg said. "My first goal was to have him get out of the hospital, and that happened. A lot of people didn't think it would. He's miraculous."

Steinbrenner had wanted DiMaggio to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at last fall's World Series, but DiMaggio was in the hospital by then.