Monson: Larry Miller, an extraordinary life

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Larry Miller gathered family members and close friends around a few days ago and told them he had decided to stop the dialysis treatments that had kept him alive during recent months, and he was now preparing to die. And those close enough to be included in that circle had never seen him so spiritual, so together, so at peace.

May he now rest in peace.

Miller slipped into the eternity Friday, having done more in his 64 years on this mortal rock than most accomplish in much longer lifetimes.

"How many people get to do what I've done?" he asked recently.

In his final days, Miller felt both pride and humility about that last part, not wanting to seem anything other than grateful for an extraordinary existence that had shocked even him. When I read back to him some of his own quotes to check for accuracy after a recent four-hour interview, done in a hospital room during a dialysis session, he said, "I don't want to sound like I'm making a big deal out of myself."

Too late.

He already had made a big deal out of himself, and not by way of bragging, rather by way of living.

Everybody knows about Miller's auto empire, his entertainment businesses, his racetrack, his rescuing and owning of the Jazz, and his impact on sports in Utah beyond the influences of any other single individual.

Many are aware that he grew up in humble circumstances in Salt Lake City, having been thrown out of his family's house as a teenager, and thereafter, marrying his grade-school sweetheart and forging a life that was sometimes challenging in personal matters and nearly always successful on the entrepreneurial front.

It is likely that the name Larry H. Miller is written across and read in more public places -- on the back of hundreds of thousands of cars driven everyday and on signage at many places of business in Utah ... than any other name.

His vision was big, his actions bold.

His payment on the first half of the Jazz was more than double his net worth. His payment on the second half, just a year later, was almost double the first payment. "It didn't make any sense," he told me.

And, yet, Miller did it anyway.

"It's like when your 5-year-old kid wipes his dirty hands on the wall," he said. "You ask him why he did that, and he says, 'Just cuz.' I did the same."

Miller became richer than King Farouk off his "just cuzzes."

He ran his businesses with cool calculation. He ran the Jazz with passion. He ran his mouth without fear, regardless of who agreed or disagreed with him. He called John Stockton's famous three-pointer at Houston in the 1997 Western Conference finals the absolute highlight of his professional career.

Miller openly feuded with Karl Malone over contract issues. He called out Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko on matters of effort. He once charged the team huddle during a bad loss and yelled at the players and drilled his index finger into Kevin O'Connor's chest. He called his players "a bunch of pampered babies," and he added: "These guys get paid $65 million to make shots. I have a problem when they don't." And he also said: "I need some guys with some guts and some fire."

Larry also cried -- early and often -- when he talked about players who were loyal to him and his franchise. Stockton and Malone caused him to bawl like a baby. He ultimately erected statues in their honor.

Everybody knows that, too.

What's relatively unknown about the man is the personal transformation he underwent over the past eight months, since his initial hospitalization after a heart attack. In our conversation, Larry hit that hard, emphasizing that as his body became weaker, his spiritual awareness became stronger.

"I've always considered myself a religious person," he said. "I've made mistakes, but I never set out to hurt anyone. I've been put now in situations where I am more sensitive to spiritual things, to Gail, to my kids, to my grandkids, to people in general. I hope that's one of the things that stays with me when I get better."

It will have to stay with him now in the Great Beyond.

Miller said he didn't fear death: "If something happens to me quicker than we want, from my standpoint, I wouldn't feel too bad. I've had a heckuva life. I've had hundreds of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. What I am afraid of is leaving Gail behind without a companion. She's been so good to me."

What he feared even more was being a heavy burden on his wife, who cared for him nonstop since his health issues erupted in June.

This week, he made the decision to lift that burden and slip away.

Larry Miller did so, quietly and peacefully and spiritually.

He will be sorely missed.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Monson and Graham Show" weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m. on 1280 AM The Zone. He can be reached at