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Legendary broadcaster Gay Byrne dead at 85

Gay Byrne hosting his last Late Late Show in 1999. photo.


By Anthony Neeson

Legendary Irish broadcaster Gay Byrne has died, aged 85.

Synonymous with The Late Late Show, which aired for the first time in 1962 with Byrne as its host, he died on Monday after a long period of illness.

With Byrne as host, the show became the second longest-running talk show in the world. He retired from “The Late Late” in 1999.

Dublin-born Byrne also hosted The Gay Byrne Show on RTÉ Radio from 1973 until 1998.

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In recent years he went on to present the Irish version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and The Meaning of Life.

Byrne’s television and radio shows became Irish cultural institutions and his career would eventually span six decades.

President Michael D. Higgins led the tributes on hearing the news that Gay Byrne had died.

“Through his work in radio and on television he challenged Irish society, and shone a light not only on the bright but also the dark sides of Irish life,” Higgins said.

“In doing so, he became one of the most familiar and distinctive voices of our times, helping shape our conscience, our self-image, and our idea of who we might be.

“Beyond compassion, which he had in abundance, he had a sense of what was just.

“A man of great charisma, Gay Byrne was someone who exuded warmth and presence, who was possessed of effortless wit, charm and who had a flair for broadcasting. This was combined with an innate gentleness as a person, professionalism and humor.

“Sabina and I wish to express our deepest sympathy to his wife Kathleen, his daughters Suzy and Crona, his grandchildren, and all his friends and colleagues.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Gay Byrne was “a much-loved figure who changed Ireland for the better in so many ways.”

He added: “On radio and on television over so many decades ‘Uncle Gaybo’ provided a voice for all those who had been silenced or were afraid to speak up, and helped us confront things that need to be changed.”

Chair of RTÉ Moya Doherty said Mr. Byrne was “fortunate to be working at the moment when television and radio were in their golden age when Ireland was beginning to think deeply about what it meant to be a global presence in a rapidly changing social and cultural world.

“Most importantly Gay was a listener. He did not so much interview as allow his guests to almost interview themselves while he listened carefully interjecting only to push them on key points.”

The first episode of The Late Late Show aired on the July 5 1962 with Byrne as its host.

It was supposed to run for just six weeks, but under Byrne’s stewardship the program became an Irish cultural institution.

With its magazine format it became not just a platform for celebrity interviews and musical performances, but a place where the most controversial issues in Irish life could be discussed, the Irish Times reported.