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He ‘conquered the world’ with his humor

Family & friends of Mitch Hedberg organize memorial event


Katy Zillmer

staff writer


There have been many tributes to comedian and East Side native Mitch Hedberg since he died four years ago of an accidental drug overdose, and now his family and friends are joining in to host a charity event in his memory.


It all came together when they found the right cause to donate the proceeds to - the Minnesota Teen Challenge, a treatment program for people suffering from addiction, says Mitch's mother, Mary Hedberg.


Mary and Arne Hedberg are still grieving the loss of their son, who died on March 29, 2005, at age 37, but wanted to host the event with the goal to prevent another family from facing the same tragedy.


"It's been years now, but it's still difficult to put into perspective," Mary Hedberg said during an interview at their Maplewood home last week.


Mary says proudly that Mitch left home when he was 18 to "conquer the world."


During his successful comedy career, Hedberg developed a loyal fan base across the country. His mother laughs as she describes his humor as "every day" sort of observations. "It makes you think, 'why didn't I think of that," Mary says.


When asked if Mitch always wanted to be a comedian, Arne Hedberg says, "Truthfully, he wanted to be an actor; anything in show business. Comedy is a venue that gets you into Hollywood. It's amazing how many actors were comedians."


The Hedbergs lived on St. Paul's East Side for many years and moved to Maplewood 19 years ago, Mary says. In addition to their late son, they have two daughters, Angie and Wendy.


A picture of Mitch performing at a comedy show not long before his death is displayed in the front entryway of their home. Arne built a shelf for their living room that is adorned with pictures and mementos from their son's life.


Success and struggle


During his career, Mitch Hedberg developed a "brand irreverent humor and clever word play (that) inspired Time Magazine to dub him 'The Next Seinfeld.'"


Hedberg earned awards for his comedy, such as at the Seattle Comedy Competition. He appeared four times at the annual Just for Laughs Montreal International Comedy Festival and completed two national Comedy Central Live tours. He had appearances on "The Late Show with David Letterman," "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" and on HBO.


He was an avid traveler and lived in Florida, Seattle, New York and California.


But, along with his incredible success, Mary says her son also battled with drug addiction. "Shortly before he died, I think he realized the severity of the problem," Mary notes. "I think Mitch had a great will to live and a vision of what his future would be."


The right cause


If they were going to host an event in memory of their son, Mary and Arne wanted it to not only have that purpose but also bring awareness to drug and alcohol addiction and raise money for a recovery program.


So, with the help of friends and family and the right cause to donate the proceeds to, Mary and Arne embarked on organizing The Mitch Hedberg Memorial Charity Golf Tournament. It will be held on Friday, Sept. 18, at Oak Marsh Golf Course in Oakdale. (See box.)


A family friend suggested that the Minnesota Teen Challenge, a substance-abuse facility offering a 60-day drug treatment program for teens and adults, would be a good place to channel the proceeds.


Mary was able to tour the Teen Challenge facilities in Minneapolis and meet clients enrolled in the program. "At this point we thought we could handle it because of the purpose the proceeds are going to," Mary says.


"We hope that another family does not have to go through the tremendous pain we have suffered from losing our son, our brother, our uncle, our nephew, our cousin, our friend," the Hedbergs say. "Our goal is to help the Minnesota Teen Challenge and Adult Program continue in its good work to help people suffering from addiction to find a solution and ongoing support to overcome the problem


'A wake up call'


After the charity golf tournament, there will be a dinner and program in Mitch's memory.


"I think he would appreciate what we're doing," Mary says.


Two people going through the Minnesota Teen Challenge program will share their experience at the dinner, she says.


A close family friend of the Hedbergs, Loren Feldkamp, will emcee the event.


"I thought, what a phenomenal event, from the fun of doing a golf tournament, raising money for a cause like Minnesota Teen Challenge and honoring Mitch's career," Feldkamp says.


Feldkamp recalls he met Mary Hedberg years ago when she was an administrative assistant with the Minutemen sports booster club and worked with the organization's Mr. Hockey award program. He was the chairman of the event and became friends with Mary over the years.


"(Loren) knows Mitch's comedy very well, and he was there with us (after) Mitch passed away," Mary says.


Mitch's two sisters plan to attend the golf tournament, and the family anticipates some of Mitch's fans will be there and at the dinner as well.


Laurie Carey, a friend of the Hedberg family, will be in attendance and has helped with the event plans.


"If it helps one person, if another family doesn't have to go through what they went through because of drugs, it makes it worth it," Carey says.


"That's what I think is really healing is to be able to channel your grief somewhere else to help people. Even though Mitch died, his name can go on forever. His death doesn't have to be in vain. With Teen Challenge there is hope for people that have addictions," she says.


Since their son's death, Mary says she has been contacted by people who are or were suffering from drug addiction. "Mitch was a wake up call for them," Mary says. "Mitch's name, Mitch's humor is doing a lot of good."


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