Hugh Downs, a television pioneer who became one of the medium’s most enduring, likable and reassuring presences in a five-decade career that included serving as Jack Paar’s late-night announcer-sidekick and hosting the NBC’s “Today” and ABC’s newsmagazine “20/20,” died Thursday at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona.
A family member said the cause of death was heart failure. Downs was 99.
In a broadcasting career that began in 1939 at age 18 when he landed a job as an announcer on a 100-watt radio station in Lima, Ohio, Downs moved into television as an announcer for the NBC-owned station in Chicago in 1950.
More than three decades later, the Guinness Book of Records certified that Downs held the Guinness Record for on-air national commercial television time, with nearly 10,000 hours as of the end of July 1985.
At the time, that included five years on the “Tonight” show, 10 years hosting the game show “Concentration,” nine years hosting the “Today” show, four years hosting “Over Easy” (the PBS series about aging in America), and the first seven of his 21 years hosting “20/20.”
Downs, who won Emmys for his work on “Concentration,” “Today” and “Over Easy,” began his long run on ABC’s award-winning “20/20” in 1978, alongside Barbara Walters, when he took over as host a week after the show’s disastrous premiere with dual hosts (Harold Hayes and Robert Hughes). He stepped down in 1999, when he was 78.
Downs’ wife of 75 years, Ruth, died in 2017. He is survived by a daughter, Deirdre, and a son Hugh Raymond, known as H.R., two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
(McLellan is a former Los Angeles Times staff writer.)
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