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July 03, 2020

Hugh Downs Known for His Work on ABC and NBC Dies at 99 – Remembering His Life and Career

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On Wednesday, July 1, 2020, television broadcaster Hugh Downs sadly passed away a year short of reaching a century in years. He was well-known for his legendary work on ABC and NBC.

In a statement, Downs’ family announced that he died at the age of 99 at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona. His great-niece, Molly Shaheen, confirmed that the legendary anchor passed away from a heart ailment.

Downs worked for two decades on ABC’s “20/20” and another nine years on NBC’s “Today show.” For another five years, the television anchor also worked as Jack Paar’s announcer on “The Tonight Show.”

Ruth and Hugh Downs during CASA Honors James and Daniel Burke in New York City | Photo: Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

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WORKING AS AN ANNOUNCER

On the game show “Concentration,” Downs appeared as the host for nearly a decade. The star started his career working on radio stations in the Midwest.

On “Kukla, Fran and Ollie” and “Caesar’s Hour,” Downs featured as the announcer. He held the title of the person with the most hours on network television until 2004.

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STARRING WITH BARBARA WALTERS

Downs’ record was surpassed by Regis Philbin. The late star also had the pleasure of working with another legend, Barbara Walters.

In the 1960s, he was the host of “Today” and he insisted that Walters get some time on camera.  At the time, she was working as a writer and producer on the show.

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SUBSTITUTING FOR JACK PAAR

In 1979, the pair got to work together when she joined the “20/20” program. They ended up co-hosting the program together until he retired in September 1999.

From 1975 to 1976, the duo also co-hosted “Not for Women Only.” While working on “The Tonight Show,” Downs would substitute for Paar.

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HUGH’S BACKGROUND

He hosted the “Today” show from September 1962 until he retired from it in October 1971. On February 14, 1921, Downs was born in Akron, Ohio.

His family moved to a farm outside Lima, Ohio, before he found a job as an announcer and newscaster on a local radio station in 1939. Downs’ goal was to become a network announcer on Harry von Zell’s level.  

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APPEARING ON TV SHOWS

Besides working as an announcer and show host; the late star also guest-starred on some TV comedies. He appeared on “Car 54,” “The Jack Benny Program,” “Where Are You?,” and “Laugh-In.”

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BEING HONORED IN ARIZONA

Downs was honored in 1998 when Arizona named its school, The Hugh Downs School of Human Communication. In 1944, he married his wife, Ruth Shaheen, and they lived together in Scottsdale.

LOSING HIS WIFE

She passed away a few years before him on March 28, 2017, aged 95. They are survived by their children, Deirdre Downs and Hugh Raymond.

The late star is also survived by his brother Wallace, and his and his wife’s two grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

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