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Celebrity Deathwatch: Morton Downey Jr., TV Talk Show Host, 67



http://www.cnn.com/2001/SHOWBIZ/TV/03/13/obit.morton.downey.ap/index.html

Trash TV icon Morton Downey Jr. dies

March 13, 2001
Web posted at: 3:33 AM EST (0833 GMT)


LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Morton Downey Jr., the chain-smoking, combative
talk-show host who reined over so-called "Trash TV" in the 1980s, has died,
his daughter Tracey said Monday night. He was 67.

The cause of death was not immediately given.

"The family is very grief stricken and very shocked right now," Tracey
Downey told KABC-TV. "He was a wonderful, wonderful man, wonderful father.
He will be deeply, deeply, deeply missed."

Downey, who lost a lung to cancer in 1996, was known for deliberately
blowing smoke into the faces of guests who annoyed him. After his cancer
surgery, however, he spent his final years as an anti-smoking advocate.

The years also mellowed him in other ways.

"No meanness this time. Just as confrontational, just as tough, just as
opinionated, but everyone else has the right to have their opinion and be
heard," he told The Associated Press when he returned to television in 1992
after five years away.

In his heyday, he was known as "Mort the Mouth," who mocked his sometimes
bizarre guests, calling them "slime" or "scumbucket."

He reveled in shouting matches with members of his studio audience, as well,
and often dismissed liberals as "pablum pukers."

He said later he took things too far.

"It got out of control because the producers ... wanted me to top myself
every night," he said in the early 1990s. "If I did something outlandish on
Monday night, on Tuesday night, we'd have to think of something even more
outlandish. And after awhile, you work yourself toward the edge of the
trampoline and you fall off. I fell off a number of times and I found it
very displeasing."

That effort to top himself every night led to perhaps the biggest
embarrassment of his career when he claimed neo-Nazi skinheads attacked him
in San Francisco, cutting off his hair and painting a swastika on his head.

Authorities could never verify the attack, and Downey's critics pounced,
calling it a publicity stunt.

Still, Downey was proud of many aspects of "The Morton Downey Jr. Show."

He took credit for creating the talk-show format embraced today by Jerry
Springer and others like him, although he said he never went as far in his
day as Springer does.

"Everyone says, 'Well, Springer's doing your show now,"' Downey told an
interviewer in 1998. "That's not true. I didn't do sleaze. There were times
that I did things that were a little sleazy, but I didn't do shows on my
neighbor's collie dog having sex with my neighbor's wife."

Although sometimes outrageous, he defended his show as giving a forum to
working-class Americans who were fed up with what politicians in Washington,
D.C., were doing with their tax money.

"It isn't the rich people who come up and say, 'Oh Mort, you're just
great,"' Downey one said. "It's the blacks and the ethnics and the blue
collars, those guys with too much hair on their shoulder blades. They want
some answers."

Born Sean Morton Downey Jr. on Dec. 9, 1933, the son of singer Morton Downey
and dancer Barbara Bennett grew up in privilege, attended military school
and earned a marketing degree and a law degree.

As a young man he held a number of jobs, including special assistant on
Capitol Hill, businessman, author, radio host, singer and songwriter. Among
his most successful songs were the 1960s surf hits "Wipeout" and "Pipeline."

He also appeared as an actor in such TV shows and movies as "Tales from the
Crypt," "Meet Wally Sparks," "Revenge of the Nerds III," "Predator II" and
the new "Rockford Files."

"I keep getting all these 'bad actor of the year' awards, but it's not
really acting," he once said, adding he would just play himself.

Copyright 2001 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may
not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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