Mike Douglas died this morning, on his 81st birthday.
While he has been out of the spotlight for several years, Douglas will be remembered for pioneering the afternoon talk show. From 1961 to 1982, The Mike Douglas Show was a daily staple of American pop culture. It's estimated that during that tenure, he did 6,000 shows, most of them 90 minutes long, and hosted over 30,000 guests. Among that roster were seven sitting, former or future Presidents and a preschool Tiger Woods, among numerous other celebrities.
Born Michael Delaney Dowd in Chicago, 11 August 1925, Douglas began his career as an Irish crooner in the 1940s. But as musical and cultural trends moved towards a more youth-oriented market in the '50s, he shifted his attentions to television as a means to keep his career alive. It was here that he found the niche for which he will be most remembered.
The Mike Douglas Show, however reluctantly, revolutionized daytime television in the early '70s. He was to a largely female afternoon audience what Johnny Carson was to post-primetime viewers. Douglas himself never viewed his series as a talk show, but as a music program with conversations thrown in between tunes. Be that as it may, it was his convivial style of interviewing guests that makes him one of the true greats for any student of pop culture.
Looking back through the fog of memory, what stands out most significantly is that Douglas never lost his cool. Even when he was dealing with difficult subjects like Jerry Reuben, Yoko Ono, and John Lennon, Douglas maintained a happy hour atmosphere in his shows. He was, above all else, an entertainer, and he never let the audience know if he was sweating a bit. It is not stretching a point to say that he laid the groundwork for all that were to follow him.
Mike Douglas led a good life. Thankfully, he shared it with us.