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Life Without 'Raymond'

In the grand finale of "Everybody Loves Raymond," Raymond nearly died.

Well, not really. But while Raymond was having his adenoids removed, the nurse told his family he was having trouble waking from the anesthesia.

A few moments later, the doctor reported that he was fine.

But this momentary close call got everybody agitated over what it would be like to actually lose Raymond.

"For 30 seconds, you all thought I might be dead," he said later when his family had told him what happened. A sly smile crept across his face as he prepared to take full advantage of their momentary scare. "What did everybody do?"

So went Monday night's funny finale of "Everybody Loves Raymond," which, in its own indirect way, addressed viewers, too, who now are losing Raymond after 210 episodes.

It was a typical outing, with just a little farewell tenderness - in Raymond's throat after the surgery, which he was nursing with ice cream, and in the hearts of the usually bickering Barones.

But just a little. "Raymond" was a series that, even at the end, wouldn't think of going soft on the domestic tensions that bonded Raymond (Ray Romano) with his wife Debra (Patricia Heaton), his meddling parents Frank and Marie (Peter Boyle and Doris Roberts), and his sad-sack brother Robert (Brad Garrett).

As usual, Raymond played his long-suffering wife against his over-adoring mother.

"You'll just have to have it done," Debra said when he told her he would need to have the surgery.

"Is that it? That's your attitude?" Raymond replied, indignant that she wasn't more upset.

Marie, by contrast, had a fit.

"They want to take a piece of my Raymond away," she wailed.

And although on this particular episode Frank didn't utter his trademark "Holy crap!," he was as crusty and uninformed as ever. Downplaying Raymond's operation early on, he advises, "Just go in, drop your drawers, bing-bang-boom!"

Nine years ago this month, "Everybody Loves Raymond" was announced as part of CBS' new fall lineup. But when the series was first shown to advertisers at Carnegie Hall, its star, then a little-known standup comedian, cracked up the gathering by bidding them farewell.

"This is going to be my last year on the show," he quipped. "We said it all in the pilot."

After an uncertain start in 1996 on Friday night, "Raymond" caught fire with its move a few months later to Monday, where it became a viewing ritual for millions.

Clearly, the audience found its simple concept not only funny but highly relatable.

The "Raymond" pilot set the tone from which the show never varied. When Ray bought his parents a Fruit of the Month Club subscription, his good turn inevitably backfired. His agitated parents demanded: How could he do this to them? All the pressure of eating a year's worth of fruit! And besides, was this "club" some kind of cult?

"Like we don't have enough problems!" Frank grumped.

The departure of the show - TV's only top 10 comedy - follows by a year the exits of other beloved, long-running comedies: "Friends," "Frasier" and "Sex and the City."

With no recent TV comedies making a splash (only CBS' "Two and a Half Men" is in the top 20), "Raymond's" goodbye had viewers wondering (and not for the first time): Is the sitcom dead?

A chaotic final kitchen scene showed the whole Romano brood at full throttle. But before that, Ray and Debra had a rare moment alone.

"You like me," he told her with a sheepish grin.

"You like me, too," she replied.

They ended up in bed, where Raymond had been recovering from his surgery.

"And after we get done," he said happily, a boy-man to the finish, "we get to have ice cream."

By Frazier Moore