Ginny on 08/13/2006
Mike Douglas Signs Off
by Joal Ryan
Aug 11, 2006, 5:55 PM PT
Tiger Woods putted. Gene Simmons wagged his tongue. John Lennon cohosted. The Mike Douglas Show was nothing if not fearlessly devoted to variety.
Mike Douglas, the genial namesake host of the 1963-1982 talk show that in its own genial way beamed the counterculture right into the American kitchenette, died on his 81st birthday Friday.
Douglas\' wife, Genevieve Douglas, told the Associated Press that her husband passed away at a Palm Beach, Florida, hospital, one day after his admission. She said he\'d been treated on and off for dehydration for the past few weeks, but that she did not know the cause of death.
After launching his career as a singer--first with the Kay Kyser Orchestra in the 1940s, then as the singing voice of Prince Charming in Disney\'s animated Cinderella and as a charting solo artist (with the Top 10 hit \"The Men in My Little Girl\'s Life\")--Douglas debuted his show on local TV in Cleveland in 1961, before going national two years later.
Guests on the long-running show were an eclectic bunch: Muhammad Ali; Liberace; Sly Stone; Judy Garland; Brian Wilson; the two-year-old Tiger Woods (his TV debut); and the fully costumed, fully demonized KISS version of Gene Simmons.
\"I\'m evil incarnate,\" Simmons hissed while sitting on stage between Douglas and Vegas comedian Totie Fields.
In the 1974 episode, Fields theorized that Simmons, underneath all the makeup, really was just a \"nice Jewish boy\"; Douglas politely inquired about the origins of his \"getup.\" Neither seemed fazed by the monster antics. After all, nothing ever bad ever happened on The Mike Douglas Show.
Rosie O\'Donnell frequently cited Douglas\' program--its leisurely chats, its warm celebrations of entertainers, its lack of chair-throwing Geraldo brawls--as the template for her own 1996-2002 daytime talk show.
\"He was a kind and gentle man,\" O\'Donnell said Friday. \"I have fond memories of watching him when I was a little girl.\"
On Friday\'s Tonight Show, host Jay Leno remembered that his first talk-show appearance came courtesy Douglas. \"I was a kid. I was like 21 years old,\" Leno said. \"He was a gentleman. He was a decent man, never a hint of scandal.\"
\"So, any young people, if you ever think of being a talk-show host, you couldn\'t find a better role model than Mike Douglas.\"
The secret to the Douglas show\'s success, the New York Times surmised in 1968, was that its host--the \"handsome, blue-eyed and extremely affable\" entertainer born Michael Dowd Jr. in Chicago in 1925--had \"discovered the pot o\' gold buried in the heart of the American kitchen.\"
But Douglas and his show weren\'t schmaltz. He was hip enough to interview a fast-talking Wilson about the Beach Boy\'s drug use; his audience was genuine enough to gasp when the rocker copped to a $100-a-day cocaine habit.
In addition to the young Rosie O\'Donnell, the radicalized John Lennon also was a Douglas fan. In 1972, the ex-Beatle and wife Yoko Ono cohosted a week\'s worth of shows with their favorite Irish tenor. Guests included Broadway performer Vivian Reed and Black Panther Bobby Seale.
\"All in all, it was a wild week of \'70s television,\" WFMU\'s Beware of the Blog said in a 2005 review. \"Try to find a mainstream TV national show these days that will feature a week of radical left-wing politics, rock-\'n\'-roll, and occasional caterwauling.\"
Douglas\' show ended in the early 1980s, an era marked by a changing of the daytime TV guard. Gone were Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin and Dinah!; on the way in, give or take a few years, were Oprah, Sally Jessy, Geraldo and more.
In later years, Douglas lived in Palm Beach, wrote a book about his TV years, and guested--more than once--on The Rosie O\'Donnell Show.