Hugh Downs, a Fixture of American TV, Is Dead

Hugh Downs

Hugh Downs, a television pioneer who became one of the medium's most enduring, likable and reassuring presences in a five-decade career that included serving as Jack Paar's late-night announcer-sidekick, and hosting the NBC's "Today" and ABC's newsmagazine "20/20", died Thursday at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Downs served in the U.S. Army during World War II and got his start on Midwest radio stations before being hired as the announcer on the children's puppet series "Kukla, Fran and Ollie" and the Sid Caesar's variety show "Caesar's Hour".

The former Today show host's career began in Chicago when he joined NBC as a newscaster. Downs said that he had wanted to do a show like "60 Minutes", and the opportunity "fell out of the sky on me". Downs, who had known that Paar was going to quit but did not expect a walkout, was called upon to fill in for the rest of the show. He famously co-anchored "20/20" alongside Barbara Walters. Downs was also one of the first of the Today show hosts to straddle the line between newscaster and interviewer.

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He also was the host of the PBS talk show "Over Easy", and hosted "Live from Lincoln Center" from 1990-96.

Among the several books he wrote were an autobiography, "Yours Truly, Hugh Downs"; "A Shoal of Stars", his account of sailing a 65-foot ketch across the Pacific; and "Thirty Dirty Lies About Old Age".

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