TV talk show pioneer Jack Paar dead at 85

Jan. 27, 2004 at 3:20 PM

GREENWICH, Conn., Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Jack Paar, who brought sophisticated humor to late-night TV as the host of "The Tonight Show" nearly 50 years ago, has died following a long illness. He was 85.

Paar -- who suffered a stroke in 2003, and had quadruple bypass surgery in 1999 -- was a high school dropout whose sharp wit and keen disregard for conventional thought helped him stand out during the development of the talk show format on TV. He hosted "The Tonight Show" from 1957-62 -- welcoming such guests as John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Barry Goldwater and Dr. Albert Schweitzer.

During Paar's tenure, "Tonight" enjoyed phenomenal success and changed the nation's viewing habits. The show was occasionally controversial, featuring guests who tested the limits of what could be discussed on public airwaves.

In 1960, Paar announced on the air that he was quitting the show. NBC lured him back, but Paar did leave the show in 1962 -- turning the late-night crown over to Johnny Carson.

From 1962-65, Paar hosted "The Jack Paar Program," a prime time variety show on NBC. He subsequently retired to his farm in upstate New York.

The list of stars whose careers were boosted by appearances with Paar included Carol Burnett, Bill Cosby, Bob Newhart, and Phyllis Diller.

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