IRREVERENTLY bemused as he always was by the subject of death, Sir Alfred Hitchcock might have been disappointed to read that his own was reported as due to "natural causes." Nevertheless, at the age of 80 and after 50 years of terrifying moviegoers, Mr. Hitchcock died in his Los Angeles home on Tuesday morning -- leaving filmed evidence of his brilliant career for the entertainment of generations to come.

Hitchcock fans all have their own list of favorite movies and favorite scenes that had them gripping the arms of theater seats or of anyone nearby. To this day, for that matter, there are "Psycho"-phobes who wouldn't think of taking a shower behind a curtain. And for all the terror and suspense that would intensify before shattering or deceiving the audience, there were the moments of high comedy, subtle humor and moving tenderness. "After a certain amount of suspense," Mr. Hitchcock once said, "the audience must find relief in laughter."

This sense of timing, and the ingenious technical tricks he devised to wring such a range of emotions from audiences, were the most obvious of his talents as a director. But there was so much to Alfred Hitchcock the man; he was a self-made character on and off the set, a witty storyteller and a relentless practical joker. On television, he was -- and thanks to the miracle of syndicated reruns, still is -- the lovable, portly, ghoulish geezer of a host, stepping slowly into his own profile to the theme music of Gounod's "Funeral March of a Marionette" and grumbling up that memorable mock-serious "G-ooooo-d Eeeeve -ning."