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Phil Donahue to be honored Monday

Johnny Carson, left, and Phil Donahue on “The Phil Donahue Show” in August 1970.


By Irish Echo Staff

The countdown has begun for the biggest night in the Irish American Writers and Artists’ calendar.

The organization's Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented for the ninth time on Monday at the Manhattan Club, upstairs at Rosie O’Grady’s.

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Phil Donahue, the creator and host of television’s pioneering “The Phil Donahue Show,” is this year’s recipient. Actor Alan Alda and documentary filmmaker Michael Moore will be among those at 800 Seventh Ave adding their voices in praise of the native Ohioan.

On national American television for 29 years, “The Phil Donahue Show” remains the longest continuous run of any syndicated TV talk show in U.S. history. During his career, Donahue won 20 Emmy Awards, 10 for Outstanding Talk Show Host and 10 for “The Phil Donahue Show.”

Born on Dec. 21, 1935, Donahue was raised in a middle-class Irish Catholic family in Cleveland. His father, Philip, Sr. was a furniture salesman and his mother, Catherine (formerly McClory), a shoe clerk in a department story.

After Catholic elementary school, his education took place at institutions run by the brothers of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, culminating at the University of Notre Dame, from which he graduated with a Bachelor’s of Business Administration in 1957. His career in broadcasting began the same year when he got a job as a production assistant.

“The Phil Donahue Show” was first aired in Dayton on Nov. 7, 1967, and went into national syndication in 1970. Four years later, it was being broadcast from Chicago and in 1984 it moved to New York City, so the host could be closer to his wife Marlo Thomas.

He married Thomas in 1980. He’d been previously married to Marge Cooney, with whom he had five children.

In 1992, Donahue was lauded by fellow talk-show professionals on a 25th anniversary NBC special that was broadcast from the Ed Sullivan Theatre.

“Donahue” had a cult popularity abroad from the late 1980s, particularly in Britain and Ireland when it became viewable on late-night TV.

Having paved the way with the format, however, “Donahue” declined in ratings in a saturated market. The host’s opposition to the Gulf War also led to the show being dropped by some key affiliates. It was last broadcast on Sept. 13, 1996, after nearly 7,000 shows.

“Donahue” was revived on July 2002 on MSNBC, but again Donahue’s anti-war stance became a worry for NBC as the Bush Administration prepared for the Iraq invasion, and the show was canceled in February 2003.

In 2006, Donahue was co-director of “Body of War,” a documentary that tells the story of a severely disabled Iraq war veteran.

The event begins at 6 p.m. and continues through 9 p.m. For tickets, go here. Online tickets sales are preferred for the event, though in previous years tickets have been sold at the door. For more information on the IAW&A, visit the organization’s website: http://i-am-wa.org/