Hugh Downs, seasoned television veteran and former host of 'Today' show and '20/20', dies at age 99

Downs’ career on television spanned more than half a century. It is no wonder that his 1986 memoir was called ‘On Camera: My 10,000 Hours on Television’


                            Hugh Downs, seasoned television veteran and former host of 'Today' show and '20/20', dies at age 99
Hugh Downs (Getty Images)

Hugh Downs, the anchorman for the ABC news program ‘20/20’ and NBC’s ‘Today’, died on Wednesday, July 1, in Scottsdale, Arizona, at the age of 99. His passing was announced by his family in a statement on Thursday.

Downs’ career on television spanned more than half a century. It is no wonder that his 1986 memoir was called ‘On Camera: My 10,000 Hours on Television’. In 1985, Downs clocked the Guinness record for most total hours on commercial network television, which he held for several years before he was overtaken by Regis Philbin in 2004.

Downs was born in Akron, Ohio, on February 14, 1921. He completed only one year of college at Bluffton in Ohio before he started working because of the Great Depression. In 1939, he began working as a radio announcer in a Lima, Ohio, station called WLOK. A year later, he was program director there.

Following that, Downs moved on to WWJ, a radio station in Detroit, Michigan, while studying at Wayne State University there. He later attended Columbia University. During World War II, he was drafted into the Army and assigned to the 123rd Infantry. That stint, however, was a short one. Reportedly, Downs collapsed from exhaustion, was hospitalized and given a medical discharge.

In 1943, he joined the NBC station WMAQ in Chicago, Illinois, as an announcer, interviewer, and DJ. His television break came in the form of an announcer for Fran Allison and Burr Tillstrom’s show ‘Kukla, Fran, and Ollie’.

In 1960, Jack Paar, the movie actor, radio and television comedian, and talk show host, furious after NBC removed a joke from the show, walked off. Downs then had to assume the role as the anchorman. 

In 1978, Downs was asked by ABC to take over the show ‘20/20’. There he remained the show’s sole host until 1984 when his former colleague Barbara Walters became his co-host. He remained with the program until retiring in 1999.

He also hosted PBS’ ‘Live From Lincoln Center’ from 1990 to 1996, narrated a number of news specials, and PBS’ ‘Over Easy’. Downs is survived by his wife Ruth, whom he married in 1944.

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