Hugh Downs, a former host of the Today and 20/20 television shows died July 1 in his Scottsdale, Arizona home at the age of 99, according to The Hollywood Reporter. His wife, Ruth, with whom he was living in Arizona, died in 2017. He is survived by his brother Wallace, children Hugh and Dierdre and two grandchildren.
His 60-year career was marked by appearances on several iconic game shows and he won several awards as a broadcaster and according to local TV station KPNX-12, was the “founding voice in modern American media.”
Downs Became A Broadcasting Icon
— David Muir (@DavidMuir) July 2, 2020
According to New York TV station ABC-7, Downs started broadcasting at the age of 18 at an Ohio radio station and although he initially dismissed television as a gimmick, he quickly changed his thoughts on it and regarded it as a “juggernaut.”
Downs was also a TV announcer in Chicago during the 1950s, working on “Kukla, Fran & Ollie” and “Hawkins Falls.” Downs would go on to be featured in the “Today” and “Tonight” shows, as well as the PBS series “Over Easy” and “Live From Lincoln Center.”
When Paar — then the host of the “Tonight” show — “stormed off the air” after the network cut a joke of his and Downs kept the show running until signoff. In one of his most recognizable roles, he co-hosted 20/20 with Barbara Walters; Downs is credited with encouraging NBC to give Walters a chance at being on-air, after she had spent a number of years as a writer, KPNX-12 reported.
In total, Downs had more than 10,000 hours on the air as a broadcaster, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He spent five years at The Tonight Show as the announcer for Jack Paar and he spent nearly a decade hosting the game show Concentration.
According to KPNX-12, Downs was in the Guinness Book of World Records in 1985 for spending the most hours on network commercial television at 15,188 hours — a distinction he lost in 2004 to Regis Philbin.
Downs Won An Emmy And Many Other Distinctions
Downs won two Daytime Emmy Awards, one of which was for hosting the talk show “Over Easy” in 1981, UPI reported.
On October 13, 2007, Downs was inducted into the American TV Game Show Hall of Fame at the Las Vegas Hilton, becoming one of four of the hall’s first inductees (the other three were Wink Martindale, Peter Marshall and Monty Hall).
Arizona State University honored him by naming one of its schools, The Hugh Downs School of Human Connection, after him.
Despite his many awards and honors, Downs remained humble, saying in the 1995 book, “The Box: An Oral History of Television, 1920-1961,” “In a way the less talent you have or deploy, the less chance you have of overexposure. That may be why I have been on network television more than anybody in the world.”
According to ABC-7, Downs was well-known for being genial and calm. He as also adventurous, according to the caption in one Associated Press photo, which captured him preparing to leave in a hot air balloon to get his ballooning license in 1975.
Downs was also a veteran; he served in World War II as a member of the U.S. Army, according to UPI.
ABC-7 reported that according to Downs’ great-niece, Molly Shaheen, Downs died of natural causes. The family said his death was not COVID-19 related.