Mike Douglas, who drew on his affable personality and singing talent during 21 years as a talk show host, died Friday on his 81st birthday, his wife said.
Douglas' afternoon show, which aired from 1961 to 1982, featured his ballad and big-band singing style, other musicians, comedians, sports figures and political personalities, including seven former, sitting or future presidents.
"People still believe 'The Mike Douglas Show' was a talk show, and I never correct them, but I don't think so," Douglas said in his 1999 memoir, "I'll Be Right Back: Memories of TV's Greatest Talk Show."
"It was really a music show, with a whole lot of talk and laughter in between numbers."
Douglas did about 6,000 syndicated shows, most 90 minutes long, and estimated that at its peak the show was seen in about 230 cities.
Douglas fondly recalled when Tiger Woods, who as a preschooler was already drawing attention, appeared on the same 1978 show as Bob Hope, an avid golfer. "I don't know what kind of drugs they've got this kid on," Hope quipped, "but I want some."
Tim Brooks, television historian and executive vice president of research for Lifetime Television Network, said Douglas was "an outgrowth on the 1950s mentality of politeness."
"Even when America was getting kind of angry in the 1960s and 1970s, his show was sort of an oasis of politeness," Brooks said. "It got you away from some of the turmoil in life."
Douglas was genial most of the time, but confided in his memoir that his composure was sorely tested one week in 1972 when former Beatle John Lennon and wife, Yoko Ono, were his unlikely guest hosts. One of the guest celebrities they selected was well-known anti-war activist Jerry Rubin.
"He just got on my nerves. It sounded like this guy hated the president, the Congress, everyone in business, the military, all police and just about everything America stands for," Douglas said.
He recalled becoming confrontational with Rubin. But Lennon "picked up the mantle of Kind and Gentle Host, and he did it quite well, reinterpreting Jerry's comments to take some of the sting out and adding a little humor to keep things cool," Douglas said.
Returning home from service in WWII, he became a featured performer on the radio and eventual television program, "Kay Kyser's Kollege of Musical Knowledge." Kyser gave him his stage name.
As the rock 'n' roll era began to emerge in the late 1950s, his style became less marketable, so he started looking for a way to energize his career. He briefly hosted "Hi, Ladies!", a daytime television program on WGN in Chicago.
In 1961, Woody Fraser, a Westinghouse Group W program director who had known Douglas in Chicago, recruited him to a Group W station in Cleveland (then KYW) to host a talk and entertainment program. The show syndicated starting in 1963 but had a limited budget, and Cleveland was not a frequent destination for well-known potential guests. The show moved to Philadelphia in 1965 and to Los Angeles in 1978. Three years later, Group W replaced Douglas with a younger singer, John Davidson.
At the very beginning of her career, Rosie O'Donnell watched Jerry Seinfeld perfom on 'The Mike Douglas Show'. Then she went to a comedy club and used all his jokes to great acclaim.
"The Mike Douglas Show" continued in syndication under Douglas' control until he retired in 1982 to North Palm Beach, Fla. Douglas appeared as a guest on several talk shows but spent much of his leisure time on the golf course.
"The Mike Douglas Show" .... Himself/Host
Mike Douglas Presents (1984) (TV) .... Host
"The Love Boat"
- Rhino of the Year/One Last Time/For Love or Money (1983) TV Episode
- Svengali (1982) TV Episode .... Himself
"The Greatest American Hero"
- The Two-Hundred-Mile-an-Hour Fast Ball (1981) TV Episode .... Himself
"The Mary Tyler Moore Hour"
- Episode #1.1 (1979) TV Episode .... Himself
"The Jackie Gleason Show"
- The Honeymooners: The Honeymoon Is Over (1969) TV Episode .... Himself
- Episode #3.4 (1968) TV Episode .... Himself
"The Music Show" (1953) TV Series .... Himself
"Kay Kyser's Kollege of Musical Knowledge" (1949) TV Series (as Michael Douglas) .... Himself