Remembering Controversial Talk Show Host Morton Downey Jr.
Controversial daytime talk show host Morton Downey Jr. was born on Dec. 9, 1932. His Secaucus-based TV show was marked by an in-your-face confrontational style and by Downey’s omnipresent cigarette.
His show started as a local show on WWOR in 1987 and was soon picked up for national syndication in early 1988.
If you never saw the show, it almost always involved Downey yelling at guests, guests yelling at Downey, and/or guests yelling at each other while Downey blew cigarette smoke in their faces. While his style garnered him a lot of attention, it only lasted in syndication for 15 months.
The New York Times reported at the time that the show was canceled due to decreasing viewership and “erosion of advertiser support” due to the controversial style of the host. It seemed like it was on a lot longer than that given Downey’s meteoric rise in pop culture, but his star burned out fast. Other shows that followed in his footsteps of free-wheeling controversy with combative guests include the Jerry Springer Show and Maury.
Downey had a notorious off-air incident where he claimed to have been attacked by neo-Nazis in an airport who tried to shave his head and paint a swastika on his head, but there was no corroborating evidence leading many people to believe it was a hoax. Downey really didn’t have a great life after his show was canceled, filing for bankruptcy in New Jersey and later having a lung removed. He also had highly publicized physical altercations with Stuttering John of the Howard Stern Show.
He died in 2001 at age 67 of lung cancer.