Like John Travolta's white suit, Tom Snyder became a defining icon of his time.
You think of the late 1970s and one of the images is Mr. Snyder on NBC's late-night Tomorrow show, waving his cigarette while he bantered with the likes of John Lennon or Charles Manson and recounted the news of the day.
His style was informal, almost casual, but he had a voice and a presence that could take over the unadorned room where he did his work.
He also had a laugh that could occasionally scare small children, and that laugh moved from an identifying trait to a national signature when Dan Aykroyd amplified it for a Snyder character on the then-fledgling Saturday Night Live.
By the time Mr. Snyder died Sunday (July 30, 2007) in San Francisco at 71 of complications of the leukemia with which he was diagnosed two years ago, he had faded from public view.
But he was an important news figure from a time when an interesting person would pop up on TV just because he or she was interesting, and for 30 or 60 minutes, that person and Mr. Snyder would chat.
Mr. Snyder had Lennon's final televised interview (April 1975) and U2's first U.S. TV appearance, in June 1981. Plasmatics lead singer Wendy O. Williams blew up a TV in the studio; in another appearance she demolished a car.
Another time, the Sex Pistols' Johnny Rotten decided he really wasn't in the mood to be on a talk show and acted indifferent for an excruciating 12 minutes.
"A great interview," Mr. Snyder said, "is a conversation in which you keep your mouth shut and the subject tells the story."
Mr. Snyder could do that. At the same time, he was not the invisible man. If he didn't make himself part of the story, he put his signature on interviews, which led many folks in the medium to consider him something of a self-promoter.
He was certainly upwardly mobile. Born in Milwaukee, he dropped out of medical school to become a radio reporter, and he had worked his way up to TV news in Los Angeles when NBC tapped him to host Tomorrow, a talk show to follow Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. When Tomorrow moved to New York in 1974, so did Mr. Snyder. NBC canceled Tomorrow in January 1982, to launch a new late-night show with a guy named David Letterman.
By the late 1980s Mr. Snyder was back in radio, doing a syndicated talk/interview/call-in show. Some fans thought radio was his best medium, and he said he was perfectly happy there.
Still, he had one more run with television.
In 1995, Letterman brought him in to host The Late Late Show following Letterman's show on CBS.
This was widely seen as a thank you. Letterman had always been a Snyder fan, and Mr. Snyder delivered what Letterman and others used to love: extended interviews in conversational style, just now with a little less cigarette smoke.
Mr. Snyder hosted The Late Late Show from January 1995 to March 1999, when Craig Kilborn took over, and this last lap served as a kind of answer to people who 20 years earlier had seen Mr. Snyder as a man whose agenda was to become some combination of William Paley, Walter Cronkite and Gen. Patton, and rule the news world.
Mr. Snyder knew about that image. He said he found it amusing. The real Tom Snyder, he said, was just a guy with a passion for stories and a talent for getting people to talk about them or delivering them himself.
"I read stories out loud. That's basically what I do," he said in 1982. "And if I may be immodest, there aren't all that many of us who do it well."
Mr. Snyder is survived by a daughter, Anne Mari Snyder, and two grandchildren.
The Associated Press and Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.