Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead
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"Generalissimo[a] Francisco Franco is still dead" is a catchphrase that originated in 1975 during the first season of NBC's Saturday Night (now called Saturday Night Live, or SNL) and which mocked the weeks-long media reports of the Spanish dictator's impending death. It was one of the first catchphrases from the series to enter the general lexicon.
The death of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco during the first season of NBC's Saturday Night served as the source of the phrase. Franco lingered near death for weeks before dying. On slow news days, United States network television newscasters sometimes noted that Franco was still alive, or not yet dead. The imminent death of Franco was a headline story on the NBC news for a number of weeks prior to his death on November 20, 1975.
After Franco's death, Chevy Chase, reader of the news on NBC's Saturday Night's comedic news segment Weekend Update, announced the dictator's death and read a quotation from Richard Nixon: "General Franco was a loyal friend and ally of the United States. He earned worldwide respect for Spain through firmness and fairness." As an ironic counterpoint to this, a picture was displayed behind Chase, showing Franco giving the fascist salute alongside Adolf Hitler.
In subsequent weeks Chase developed the joke into a parody of the earlier news coverage of Franco's illness, treating his death as the top story. "This breaking news just in", Chase would announce – "Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead!" Occasionally, Chase would change the wording slightly in order to keep the joke fresh, e.g. "Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still valiantly holding on in his fight to remain dead." The joke was sometimes combined with another running gag in which, rather than having a sign language interpreter visually presenting the news to aid the deaf, the show would provide assistance from Garrett Morris, "head of the New York School for the Hard of Hearing", whose "aid" involved cupping his hands around his mouth and shouting the news as Chase read it. The gag ran until early 1977.
The line was perceived as a slap at NBC Nightly News main anchor John Chancellor, who due to his background as a foreign correspondent, felt the network should weigh its news more heavily toward world events, and had kept Franco's deathwatch at the top of the headlines.
The phrase has remained in use since Franco's death. James Taranto's Best of the Web Today column at OpinionJournal.com uses the phrase as a tag for newspaper headlines that indicate something is still happening when it should be obvious. On February 8, 2007, during Jack Cafferty's segment on CNN's The Situation Room on the day of the death of Anna Nicole Smith, he asked of CNN correspondent Wolf Blitzer "Is Anna Nicole Smith still dead, Wolf?" It was also used now and then on NBC News Overnight in the early 1980s, and Keith Olbermann occasionally used it on Countdown.
The Wall Street Journal used the headline "Generalísimo Francisco Franco Is Still Dead – And His Statues Are Next" on its front page March 2, 2009. The newspaper used it once again on its front page in the headline "Generalísimo Francisco Franco Is Still Dead – But for some not dead enough" on August 21, 2015 when it reported about critics calling to enforce a 2007 anti-Franco law in Madrid and to rename streets and plazas, after the last election had ended the 24-year-reign of conservatives in the city council.
Although SNL's use is perhaps the most widely known, it is predated by the "'John Garfield Still Dead' syndrome," which originated as a result of extensive coverage in the wake of the actor John Garfield's death and funeral in 1952.
- "Saturday Night Live, Season 1: Episode 6, Weekend Update with Chevy Chase". SNLtranscripts.jt.org. Retrieved November 3, 2010.
- "Is Generalíssimo Francisco Franco Still Dead?". IsGeneralissimoFranciscoFrancoStillDead.com. Retrieved September 6, 2012.
- "Saturday Night Live, Season 1: Episode 7, Weekend Update with Chevy Chase". SNLtranscripts.jt.org. Retrieved November 3, 2010.
- Saturday Night Live, originally broadcast February 28, 1976, as preserved in DVD format, SNL: The First Season, 1975–76.
- "Transcripts The Situation Room". CNN.
- Catan, Thomas (March 2, 2009). "The Wall Street Journal – March 2, 2009". online.wsj.com. Retrieved November 3, 2010.
- Roman, David (August 21, 2015). "Generalissimo Franco Is Still Dead, but for Some Not Dead Enough". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
- Collins, Gail (July 8, 2009). "Michael, a Foreign Affair". New York Times. Retrieved July 9, 2009.
The practice of churning out stories about a deceased celebrity for as long as possible is an old tradition. It used to be known as the "John Garfield Still Dead" syndrome, after the extensive post-funeral coverage of a movie star who had a fatal heart attack in 1952 in the bed of a woman other than his wife.