Is this '80s talk show host responsible for our current mess?
As Conan O'Brien prepares to assume the throne of late night TV (at least for a short while), it's time to look back to the '80s and assess the damage caused by a probably forgotten talk show host: Morton Downey Jr.
The Morton Downey Jr. Show lasted only from 1987 to 1989, but it made a big impact in its short lifetime. The show began on the NY-NJ superstation WWOR before hitting national syndication. Fans probably best remember it for Downey's chain-smoking, the yelling matches and his trademark insults of "slime," "scumbucket" of "pablum-puking liberal."
Come to think of it, since Downey is considered the founder of "trash TV," you could say he's the grandfather of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann. In fact, in the early '80s, it was Limbaugh himself who was chosen to replace Downey (then a radio show host) made an ethnic remark about a city council member in Sacramento, Calif. By the late '80s and early '90s, stations and advertisers had grown tired of his hated-spewed act and he found it nearly impossible to get a job.
If only we could be so lucky today.
"Everyone says, 'Well, Springer's doing your show now,"' Downey said in an interview in the late '90s. "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."
Downey died in 2001, falling to lung cancer that was caused by years of heavy smoking. Near the end of his life, he went on the Larry King Show and expressed regret for his antics -- and particularly for romanticizing smoking among teens.
"If nothing else, I want to go out, I want to die like a man, like a mensch, like a good person," he told King. "I want my daughter to be able to look at reruns of The Larry King Show someday and see her dad on there proud, brave, knowing he is going to die, and trying to make up for some of the garbage that he spewed."