Art Linkletter, the radio and television talk-show pioneer who was best known for eliciting hilarious remarks from the mouths of babes and who late in life was a popular motivational speaker and author, challenging seniors to live as zestfully as he did, has died. He was 97.
LOS ANGELES — Art Linkletter, the radio and television talk-show pioneer who was best known for eliciting hilarious remarks from the mouths of babes and who late in life was a popular motivational speaker and author, challenging seniors to live as zestfully as he did, has died. He was 97.
Mr. Linkletter died Wednesday at his home in Bel-Air, Calif., said his son-in-law, Art Hershey.
He was an accomplished businessman whose Linkletter Enterprises controlled more than 70 businesses. He became a well-known anti-drug crusader after a daughter committed suicide in 1969. He wrote three autobiographies, a 1988 best-seller called “Old Age Is Not for Sissies” and released the latest of more than 20 books — about making the most of life’s later years — on his 94th birthday.
To many baby boomers and their parents who watched his daytime-television show “House Party,” Mr. Linkletter would always be the perfect straight man who could ask a grade-schooler a simple question like “What does your mommy do?” and elicit this response: “She does a little housework, then sits around all day reading the Racing Form.”
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That popular segment from the television show that aired from 1952 to 1970 led to his 1957 best-selling book “Kids Say the Darndest Things” and several sequels.
The CBS radio version of “House Party” debuted in 1945. When the show segued to television in the early 1950s, he sought out spunky Los Angeles youngsters who wouldn’t be intimidated by a TV studio. Mr. Linkletter asked local teachers to “Pick the kids you’d like to have out of the classroom for a few precious hours.”
One boy’s answer, when asked what animal he wished to be, provided the funniest response, Mr. Linkletter once told an interviewer. An octopus, the boy said, so that he could grab the many bullies in his school and hit them with his “testicles.”
Mr. Linkletter, born Arthur Gordon Kelly in the Canadian hamlet of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada, hosted “People are Funny” and the Emmy-winning “House Party” on radio and television for more than 25 years. With Mark Victor Hansen, co-creator of the “Chicken Soup” book series, Linkletter wrote the anti-aging book “How to Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life” (2006). During the tour for the book, Linkletter signed 400 copies in one sitting. As of 2008, he continued to lecture more than 60 times a year and run Linkletter Enterprises.
In his junior year at what is now San Diego State University, Mr. Linkletter was hired as an announcer at San Diego radio station KGB. In 1955, Mr. Linkletter served as the primary host of Disneyland’s 1955 opening-day ceremonies. When his good friend Walt Disney said he could only pay him union scale, Mr. Linkletter asked for and received exclusive rights to the camera and film concession at Disneyland for a decade.
Although Mr. Linkletter appeared in two movies, “People Are Funny” (1946) with Jack Haley and Rudy Vallee and “Champagne for Caesar” (1950) with Ronald Colman and Vincent Price, he assessed his strength not as an actor but as a chatty, amiable conversationalist.
Mr. Linkletter became a wealthy businessman, investing in Hula-Hoops and delving into oil wells, lead mines, manufacturing plants, restaurants, television production, real estate, construction, mobile-storage units and even a bowling alley, a skating rink and a charm school.
As he aged, Mr. Linkletter also worked to help other seniors, serving as president of the University of California, Los Angeles, Center on Aging, national spokesman for the senior lobbying group now known as USA Next and board chairman of the John Douglas French Alzheimer’s Foundation.
He gave credit for his vigor and longevity to his wife, the former Lois Foerster, whom he married in 1935.
Mr. Linkletter weathered private tragedy with the early deaths of two of his five adult children.
He became a national spokesman on drug abuse after his youngest child, Diane, leapt to her death from her Hollywood apartment in 1969 at age 20, a suicide the family blamed on LSD use. He and his daughter won a Grammy for their spoken-word recording “We Love You, Call Collect,” an emotional father-daughter conversation recorded not long before her death.
His second son, Robert, was killed at 35 in a 1980 car crash.
His eldest son, Jack, who followed his father into broadcasting and worked in the family-business empire, died at 70 of lymphoma in 2007.
Besides his wife, survivors include his daughters Dawn and Sharon.