Hugh Downs, whose smooth delivery and warm demeanor led to a seven-decade career in television news and talk, died Wednesday at the age of 99.
Downs died of natural causes at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona, on Wednesday, his great-niece, Molly Shaheen, told the Associated Press.
From morning to night, Downs became one of TV’s most familiar faces, at one point holding the record for most hours – 10,000 – in front of a television camera (a record later broken by Regis Philbin).
He co-anchored NBC’s "Today" show from 1962 to 1971, but is probably most remembered for his 21 years as co-host of ABC evening newsmagazine "20/20" (both alongside Barbara Walters), and his signature sign-off: “We’re in touch, so you be in touch.”
And he stayed in touch, even after his official retirement from "20/20" in 1999, doing voice-over duties for a number of documentary films and specials through the 2000s. “Gosh, I’d like to lie on a beach for six weeks,” he told USA TODAY on his retirement. “But I knew by the end of the first hour I’d be thinking of something else to do, and I’d start doing it.”
In a note to staff Thursday, ABC News President James Goldston saluted Downs as a professional and as a person, quoting the broadcaster's esteemed colleagues, including "20/20" co-host Barbara Walters, who called him "a gentleman in every way." He also referenced former ABC News chief Roone Arledge's assessment that Downs' “warmth, intelligence and his common sense have endeared him to generations of viewers.”
In his own words, Goldston said Downs "will be remembered fondly for his brilliant reporting, kind heart and curious mind. … Our hearts are with Hugh’s family and friends tonight. Please join me in taking a moment to remember Hugh Downs, an exceptional broadcaster, and his many contributions to ABC News. He will be deeply missed."
Born in Akron, Ohio, Downs' history dates from the medium’s formative years. He got his start on radio in Detroit and Chicago – “I thought TV wasn’t anything that was going to stay,” he told USA TODAY; “I viewed it as a gimmick, like 3D” – before jumping to the vibrant new medium in 1949, as announcer on the classic kids’ puppet show "Kukla Fran and Ollie."
He served as the announcer for one of the earliest incarnations of NBC’s "Tonight Show," starring Jack Paar, in the late 1950s and early ’60s. He launched one of the ’60s most popular daytime shows, the memory-matching game "Concentration," serving as host for more than 10 years even as he continued his "Today" duties. And he hosted PBS’ "Live From Lincoln Center" broadcasts for much of the ’90s.
“Downs was actually an early pioneer in the infotainment industry that seamlessly seems to blend news and entertainment,” said Mark Jurkowitz of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, “a reassuring, relaxed and silky smooth television talent.”
Downs' wife, Ruth Shaheen Downs, whom he married in 1944, died on March 28, 2017, at age 95.
Contributing: Peter Johnson
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hugh Downs death: Veteran NBC, ABC newscaster dies at 99