Morton Downey Jr. Dies

morton downey jr. AP

Morton Downey Jr., the chain-smoking, combative talk-show host who reined over so-called "Trash TV" in the 1980s, has died, his daughter Tracey said Monday night. He was 67.

The cause of death was not immediately given.

“The family is very grief stricken and very shocked right now,” Tracey Downey told KABC-TV. “He was a wonderful, wonderful man, wonderful father. He will be deeply, deeply, deeply missed.”

Downey, a chain smoker for years until losing a lung to cancer in 1996, was known for deliberately blowing smoke into the faces of guests who annoyed him. After his cancer surgery, however, he spent his final years as an anti-smoking advocate.

The years also mellowed him in other ways.

“No meanness this time. Just as confrontational, just as tough, just as opinionated, but everyone else has the right to have their opinion and be heard,” he told The Associated Press when he returned to television in 1992 after five years away.

In his heyday, he was known as “Mort the Mouth,” who mocked his sometimes bizarre guests, calling them “slime” or “scumbucket.”

He reveled in shouting matches with members of his studio audience, as well, and often dismissed liberals as “pablum pukers.”

He said later he took things too far.

“It got out of control because the producers ... wanted me to top myself every night,” he said in the early 1990s. “If I did something outlandish on Monday night, on Tuesday night, we'd have to think of something even more outlandish. And after awhile, you work yourself toward the edge of the trampoline and you fall off. I fell off a number of times and I found it very displeasing.”

That effort to top himself every night led to perhaps the biggest embarrassment of his career when he claimed neo-Nazi skinheads attacked him in San Francisco, cutting off his hair and painting a swastika on his head.

Authorities could never verify the attack, and Downey's critics pounced, calling it a publicity stunt.

Still, Downey was proud of many aspects of “The Morton Downey Jr. Show.”

He took credit for creating the talk-show format embraced today by Jerry Springer and others like him, although he said he never went as far in his day as Springer does.

“Everyone says, `Well, Springer's doing your show now,”' Downey told an interviewer in 1998. “That's not true. I didn't do sleaze. There were times that I did things that were a little sleazy, but I didn't do shows on my neighbor's collie dog having sex with my neighbor's wife.”

Although sometimes outrageous, he defended his show as giving a forum to working-class Americans who were fed up with what politicians in Washington, D.C., were doing with their tax money.

“It isn't the rich peope who come up and say, `Oh Mort, you're just great,”' Downey one said. “It's the blacks and the ethnics and the blue collars, those guys with too much hair on their shoulder blades. They want some answers.”

Born Sean Morton Downey Jr. on Dec. 9, 1933, the son of singer Morton Downey and dancer Barbara Bennett grew up in privilege, attended military school and earned a marketing degree and a law degree.

As a young man he held a number of jobs, including special assistant on Capitol Hill, businessman, author, radio host, singer and songwriter. Among his most successful songs were the 1960s surf hits “Wipeout” and “Pipeline.”

He also appeared as an actor in such TV shows and movies as “Tales from the Crypt,” “Meet Wally Sparks,” “Revenge of the Nerds III,” “Predator II” and the new “Rockford Files.”

“I keep getting all these `bad actor of the year' awards, but it's not really acting,” he once said, adding he would just play himself.



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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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