Hard to believe. It's already been a month since the great Harry Kalas passed away.

The Phillies - from the memorial cigarette to the black H.K. uniform patches to that famous home run call now playing after each hometown dinger - offered him an honorable tribute. So too did the fans, thousands of whom visited Citizens Bank Park to pay their respects. Only Jack Buck and Babe Ruth got similar send-offs. Harry the K got his just due in death.

But as usual, it came a little late. Too often the accolades flow when the recipient is no longer around to hear them. We've all lost people close to us and regretted never having told them what they meant to us in life. It's true for both non-celebrities and celebrities.

Take Joe Frazier. HBO's Thrilla in Manila depicts the bitter feud behind the three epic fights between Frazier and Muhammad Ali. That era and those bouts have been well-documented, but Thrilla is different. It shows us what the battle looked like from Smokin' Joe's corner.

Like the fact that the two rivals had once been friends. Or that Frazier gave Ali money when the latter's boxing license was revoked in the late 1960s, and that Smokin' Joe lobbied President Richard Nixon in support of Ali's reinstatement.

Ali's return to the ring, however, brought a change of attitude. He mocked Frazier in public. He called him stupid and ugly. He race-baited for the cameras, calling Frazier an Uncle Tom and a tool of his white backers. "He's the other type of Negro," Ali asserted. He riffed about Frazier as a gorilla and sparred with a man in a gorilla suit - all as the cameras rolled.

In other words, he took the pre-fight schtick way too far. And while Ali would later apologize to Frazier's son Marvis, he's never offered a personal apology to Frazier himself.

Too bad it's taken more than 30 years to get a glimpse of that era through Frazier's battered eyes. Ali has long been feted as one of the greatest sportsmen who ever lived. Smokin' Joe, meanwhile, lives in a room above his gym in a North Philadelphia neighborhood labeled the Badlands. As Ali biographer Thomas Hauser notes in the film: "It's an interesting look at how America treats its sporting icons. Some are accorded special status, and others are largely forgotten."

I hope Joe Frazier, now 65, doesn't feel forgotten. Where possible, the icons among us should be told today just how we feel about them. It shouldn't take Tim Russert's passing to spark a conversation about civility in today's media world. Or Jack Kemp's death to inspire the GOP to make an honest effort in his name at reaching out to minorities and urban communities.

And it's not limited to the rich and famous. Each of us has family and friends to whom we owe gratitude - or perhaps people with whom we need to reconcile. It shouldn't take a memorial service or a funeral for us to think about doing so.

A few weeks ago, I called Smokin' Joe Frazier to tell him what he meant to my youth and how he'd helped cultivate my appreciation of the sweet science. I thought he should understand that there are millions of people who acknowledge his commitment to the sport and the dignity with which he's always carried himself. Unfortunately, what Thrilla made clear is the reality that Frazier's sense of dignity and sportsmanship has gone unheralded since he left the ring.

He told me he's concerned with influencing "the young one who's growing up to be a young man or young woman as time goes by. We're going to have to represent them right so that they can carry on the right way. If we're not right, how are we going to make our kids right?"

I then asked the former Olympic and heavyweight champ if he's happy, and the response was vintage Joe Frazier. "The Lord's been good to me," he said, before telling a story about a car accident that caused him significant pain and resulted in multiple surgeries on his neck.

"From that day on, I've been walking with a little hippy-hop, but I get around the best I can, so it's no problem," he said.

I was glad I made the call.

Head Strong:

A review of Michael Smerconish's latest book appears on H12.

Michael Smerconish's column appears Thursdays in the Philadelphia Daily News and Sundays in Currents. He can be heard from 5 to 9 a.m. weekdays on "The Big Talker," WPHT-AM (1210). Contact him via www.mastalk.com.