Robert Osborne, who introduced classic movies to generations of Americans who never got to see them in theaters as the host of Turner Classic Movies, died on March 6 at age 84. Osborne died after a long battle with kidney disease, his family said in his obituary.
Osborne had been missing from the network for months and skipped the two most recent TCM Classic Film Festivals.
On the day after Osborne’s death, TCM announced a 48-hour tribute to Osbonre, which will run from Saturday, March 18 to Sunday, March 19. The tribute will include re-airings of Private Screenings and Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival programs. The network will also air Osborne’s first ever TCM introduction, which was for Gone With The Wind of course.
Here’s a look at his life and death.
1. Osborne Died on March 6
Osborne had been missing from TCM introductions for months and his absence was felt throughout the classic film community. As a result, Ben Mankiewicz was forced to shoulder more of the network’s hosting duties. Other guest hosts often came on to host special programs or fill in when Mankiewicz couldn’t.
“All of us at Turner Classic Movies are deeply saddened by the death of Robert Osborne. Robert was a beloved member of the Turner family for more than 23 years. He joined us as an expert on classic films and grew to be our cherished colleague and esteemed ambassador for TCM,” TCM General Manager Jennifer Dorian said in a statement. “Robert was embraced by devoted fans who saw him as a trusted expert and friend. His calming presence, gentlemanly style, encycolpedic knowledge of film history, fervent support for film preservation and highly personal interviewing style all combined to make him a truly world-class host. Robert’s contributions were fundamental in shaping TCM into what it is today and we owe him a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.”
As a result, there was fear among TCM fans that the network was drastically changing, but TCM stressed that this wasn’t the case.
“People grew to accept him and trust us that we weren’t changing the channel or getting rid of Robert,” TCM Senior Vice President Charles Tabash told the Los Angeles Times in 2015 of Mankiewicz’s growing presence. “There was an evolution in terms of the intros. We changed his set and didn’t make him have a goatee.”
“My workload for TCM has probably increased tenfold,” Mankiewicz told the LA Times in 2015. “I am an incredibly grateful for that. For the first three or four years, I was like, ‘Come on, let me do more.'”
Mankiewicz, who joined TCM in 2004, posted the following message on Twitter:
2. Osborne Missed the Last 2 TCM Classic Film Festivals
Since Osborne hosted TCM broadcasts since the moment it began on April 14, 1994, he was the face of the network. But it became increasingly clear that his health was becoming an issue. In 2016, he missed his second consecutive festival. The network told The Hollywood Reporter that he had a “health issue” and was enjoying “some vacation time.” The network was never more specific about his health.
In 2015, Osborne blamed “a minor health procedure” for missing the 2015 festival. His last festival turned out to be the 2014 event.
Each festival is held in Hollywood, with screenings at the famed TCL Chinese Theater and the Egyptian Theater. The 2017 edition is in April.
3. Lucille Ball Suggested He Leave Acting to Become a Historian
For many, Osborne is remembered as a historian, the man who tells audiences all the behind-the-scenes gossip about our favorite films. But he actually did try to break into Hollywood as an actor himself. After graduating from the University of Washington, he got a job at Lucille Ball’s Desilou Studios. He found small roles on television, but Lucille Ball eventually realized that he couldn’t act and suggested he spend more time as a journalist.
Osborne had appeared in the Beverly Hillbillies pilot and other TV shows, but Ball knew that he wasn’t really cut out for acting.
“She was kind of impressed because I had gone to college,” he told the New York Times. “She took me under her wing and said: ‘You come from a nice middle-class family. You’ve studied journalism. We have enough actors already; we don’t have writers. Write a book.’ So I did.”
“She said to me, ‘What you should do is write,'” Osborne told the Los Angeles Times in 2013. “‘You were a journalism major at the University of Washington. You love to do research. You love old films. Nobody is writing about films. We have enough actors, but we don’t have enough writers.’ She is the one who kind of got me away from acting.”
In addition to his books, Osborne also wrote The Hollywood Reporter’s “Rambling Reporter” column. He joined THR in 1977 and wrote his last “Rambling Reporter” column in 2009.
4. Osborne Became Best Friends With Many of His Favorite Interview Subjects
Osborne never married and he didn’t have any children. He did have a partner, theater director David Staller, reports the Los Angeles Times.
He devoted his life to the movies and introducing them to the next generation. He spent much of his life recording the stories of Golden Age Hollywood stars.
In a New York Times profile from 2006 Osborne said he had Bette Davis once visit his apartment and she loved it. “I remember when I was showing her the kitchen I was apologizing because it was so small and she said: ‘It’s supposed to be small. It’s a New York apartment,'” he recalled.
Osborne bought his New York co-op unit in 1988 for around $500,000, he told the Times.
Through the years, in addition to all the many assets that are such an integral part of her, she’s also proven to be someone who always makes good on promises. The night she celebrated her 80th birthday in Paris in 1996, Olivia told me she’d just made a vow to live to be 100. And she’s done it. During a more recent phone chat, she said, “I’ve changed my goal. I’ve decided I want to live to be at least 110.” That’s the best birthday present this amazing woman from Hollywood’s golden era could give us. I have no doubt she’ll make it. Bravo, Olivia!
Osborne told the New York Times that he also became good friends with Lana Turner, Ingrid Bergman, Dorothy Lamour, Heddy Lamarr and Paulette Goddard.
“Somebody like Dorothy Lamour,” he told the Times in 2014, “she adored me. I knew she had sold more war bonds during the Second World War than almost anybody in Hollywood.”
5. He Wrote the Official History of the Oscars
Osborne was born in Washington State, but spend the last years of his life in New York, where he filmed his introductions for TCM.
Even before TCM was even created, Osborne wrote several books that became well-regarded among classic film fans. In 1965, he published Academy Awards Illustrated, establishing him as a top authority on the Oscars. In 1978, he wrote 50 Golden Years: The Official History of the Academy Awards and continued updating it. The most recent edition was published in 2013.
Osborne became as well known as the stars he loved himself. He loved hearing stories from fans about how TCM made them smile at times of trouble.
“I get stopped on the street all the time,” Osborne told the New York Times in 2014. “People say: ‘You got me through cancer last year. You got me past unemployment. You take me away from my troubles.’ Exactly what movies did in the ’30s and ’40s.”