Hugh Downs, the news anchor, game show host and all-around fixture of 20th century television, died Thursday, according to a statement from his family. He was 99 years old.
The Ohio-born Downs got his start in television as an announcer, after beginning his career in radio. His soothing, low tones were heard on shows like Kukla, Fran and Ollie beginning in 1949, then on Sid Caeser’s Caeser’s Hour, and Jack Parr’s version of The Tonight Show. In 1960 when Paar abruptly left the show after sparring with NBC’s censors, Downs was surprised to find himself left with guest hosting duties, which he performed for 25 days.
During his Tonight Show announcer years he began hosting NBC’s long-running game show Concentration. The two-part premise involved contestants matching images from memory and solving a rebus puzzle. Downs hosted the show from 1958 to 1969.
In 1962, however, he held two gigs, and made the jump from entertainment to news taking over Dave Garroway’s seat, temporarily held by John Chancellor, on NBC’s Today.
Downs co-hosted Today for a little over nine years, much of that time alongside Barbara Walters, who began as a weekly correspondent. After his departure in 1971, he would re-team with Walters in 1984 on ABC’s answer to CBS’s 60 Minutes, the similarly numerically named news magazine 20/20. Downs stayed on the weekly program until 1999. In an interview with the Archive of American Television Downs joked that he sometimes sounds like a midwife when discussing Walters’ career, then added “I didn’t discover her, she discovered herself.”
In the 1990s he also hosted the Live from Lincoln Center classical music series for PBS. In 2001 he did a guest voice on Family Guy.