Talk-Show Pioneer Morton Downey Jr. Dies

ByABC News
March 13, 2001, 1:59 AM

March 13 -- Once the biggest mouth on television, Morton Downey Jr. has been forever silenced.

The lung cancer the former talk-show host has been suffering from for years, said daughter Tracey Downey, "has taken its toll."

Downey, whose controversial late 1980s TV show paved the way for the Jerry Springers of the world, died Monday afternoon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 67.

A one-time heavy smoker, Downey kicked a 50-year habit in 1996 to become an anti-tobacco activist, but by that time it was too late.

"The family is very grief stricken and shocked right now," said his daughter. "He was a wonderful man and wonderful father and he is going to be deeply, deeply missed."

Downey, who was often seen with a cigarette dangling from his mouth on his show and would sometimes blow smoke in the faces of his ideological foes had been suffering from numerous respiratory and lung illnesses. In recent years, Downey underwent a series of operations for the treatment of his lung cancer.

Groundbreaking TV Show

The Morton Downey Jr. Show, which debuted in 1987 and lasted just two years, was groundbreaking for its time and, for a moment, wildly popular.

On his show, Downey whose symbol was a huge, open mouth would taunt his guests, shout at them and subject them to his often hostile audience of extremely loyal fans.

Downey justified all the yelling on his show, saying many Americans grew up in households were yelling and confrontation were common.

"I think anyone in this country who's been raised in an Irish family, in a Jewish family, a Spanish family and Italian family has been raised around yelling," he once said. "And confrontation... you know, and we're used to it it's not something foreign to us."

His show paved the way for many of todays circus-atmosphere talk shows, such as Jerry Springer but Downey kept his distance from today's shows, saying he didn't do "sleaze."