Talk Show Hosts You Might Not Know Died

Talk show hosts are familiar faces we welcome into our homes day after day (or night after night!). From celebrity interviews with our favorite stars to hilarious comedy segments, it takes a special kind of talent to anchor a morning, afternoon, or late night talk show. That's why hosts typically come with a pretty impressive pedigree — think former "Saturday Night Live" funny guy or super successful musician (we're looking at you, Jimmy Fallon and Kelly Clarkson!).

Television today is blessed with plenty of talented talkers, from Stephen Colbert to Kelly Ripa. But sadly, some of the pioneers of the industry are no longer with us — like the co-creator and first ever host of "The Late Late Show" and a talk show legend who spent the later years of her career critiquing red carpet fashion. Here we break down all of the famous talk show hosts you may not have realized are no longer with us.

Johnny Carson

"Heeeeeere's Johnny!" The iconic talk show host made a name for himself on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" for three decades — from 1962 until 1992 — a series that set the tone for all the late-night talk shows that followed. Fellow comedians have long paid homage to the funny guy, best summed up by Steve Martin's statement upon learning of Carson's death: "All of us who grew up on Johnny Carson had three decades in which to go to sleep with a smile on our faces. He loved to laugh, he loved to make you laugh, and he loved comedians and entertainers." Jay Leno, who quite literally followed in his footsteps on "The Tonight Show," said "He was the gold standard."

Carson was a Midwest native who started out in radio. He briefly hosted the game show "Who Do You Trust?" in the late '50s before succeeding "Tonight Show" host Jack Paar, and moving the show from New York to Los Angeles.

After such a momentous career in television, his final episode of "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" famously featured Bette Midler singing "One More For My Baby (and One More For the Road" in May 1992. He would die a little more than a decade later from emphysema. The sad news made headlines in January 2005, announcing the legend had passed at the age of 79.

Tom Snyder

The '70s gave us "Tomorrow," a late-night talk show hosted by Tom Snyder, a former news reporter who died from leukemia at the age of 71 in 2007. The show, which ran from 1973 until 1981, fused news and entertainment, and featured interviews with personalities ranging from Charles Manson and Alfred Hitchcock to Paul McCartney, with the host's signature informal and more conversational style. 

Snyder went on to start "The Late Late Show" on CBS in 1995, serving as the first host on the series that continues to run even today. The Amazing Kreskin, a TV personality that also found fame in the '70s, reminisced about Snyder's talent to The Toronto Star back in 2007 when news of his death broke. "Tom had this touch... He seemed to be talking directly to you, the home viewer. And off camera he was just as down to home. Said what he was thinking. It could get him into all kinds of trouble." He also called him an extremely sincere host, which was a testament to Snyder's more casual interviewing methods. 

In February 2022, it was reported that Snyder's story will be told in an upcoming documentary, "Tom Who." The film will cover his illustrious career and include lost footage from his show. It's being co-directed and co-produced by Snyder's daughter, Ann Marie Snyder.  

Jack Paar

Jack Paar served as the second host of "The Tonight Show" for several years, anchoring the late night talk show from 1957 until 1962. Paar first got his start in radio, working as a comic and disc jockey for years, and even had some roles in B movies before landing a gig on "CBS Morning Show" in 1954. That job led him to his late night series, which he famously left very abruptly in 1960 after one of his jokes was censored by the network. The joke that caused him to walk off his own show was a reference to a "WC," or water closet, one that seems incredibly tame when compared to the comedy of today. Paar eventually returned to the set, but not until he receiving an apology from the network for censoring his content.

That spirited personality and spunk is exactly what endeared him to audiences. He was known to tear up on camera and had his fair share of public feuds, including one with fellow host Ed Sullivan. He also had his own signature catchphrase, "I kid you not," that caught on thanks to his frequent use, and introduced the now common practice of kicking off his show with an opening monologue.

Dick Cavett, another legendary talk show host, said, "There has never been anybody remotely like him. Jack was just a meteoric talent." Dubbed the original "king of late night," Paar died after having a stroke in January 2004. He was 85 years old.

Merv Griffin

The small screen continues to showcase creations of our next talented talk show host. Merv Griffin not only anchored his own talk show, "The Merv Griffin Show," from 1962 to 1986, but he also launched the popular game shows "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune" that continue to run to this day, making him one of the talk show hosts with the biggest legacy in Tinseltown.

While many people associate Griffin with his game shows, his talk show was a massive hit during its time. Fellow interviewer Larry King once called him a "Merv of all trades," and audiences appreciated his low-key interviewing style. Guests included not one, not two, but four Presidents of the United States — including Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon — and Hollywood heavyweights like John Wayne, Brooke Shields, Lucille BallArnold Schwarzenegger, and Tom Cruise. Griffin was also responsible for giving up-and-coming comedians the spotlight. Some of the new comics that the host featured on his show include legends like Jerry Seinfeld and Richard Pryor.

The world sadly lost this multi-talented star to prostate cancer in 2007 at the age of 82, though his mark on Hollywood certainly lives on.

Mike Douglas

"The Mike Douglas Show" kept housewives company year after year beginning in 1961, anchored by the former singer. His afternoon talk show remained on the air through 1982, with a wide range of famous faces dropping by. Douglas featured everyone from Muhammad Ali to Little Richard and Liberace. He even had a 2-year-old Tiger Woods, who appeared on Douglas' talk show for his very first TV appearance to showcase his impressive swing.

This varied cast of interviewees kept audiences tuning in day after day. Mike himself reminisced about his years on daytime television in his 1999 memoir, "I'll Be Right Back: Memories of TV's Greatest Talk Show," writing, "People still believe 'The Mike Douglas Show' was a talk show, and I never correct them, but I don't think so. It was really a music show, with a whole lot of talk and laughter in between numbers." One of Douglas' keys to success, according to Tom Kelly, co-author of the memoir, was the host's ability to allow his guests to shine. Kelly said, "He had his ego in check. He was a fine performer. He could sing, he could do comedy; he did it all, but he always gave the guest the spotlight."

Douglas died on his birthday in 2006, at the age of 81. His exact cause of death was never revealed, though he'd reportedly been dehydrated after golfing and ended up being hospitalized shortly before he passed away.

Joan Rivers

The one and only Joan Rivers ended her career being known for her ferocious fashion takes on the E! network, but prior to that, the funny lady hosted "The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers" beginning in 1986. Rivers was widely considered by some to be the first woman host of a late night talk show, but in reality, Faye Emerson reached that achievement several decades prior. However, Rivers was definitely more well known and she parlayed her late night experience into a daytime talk show, "The Joan Rivers Show."

The latter earned her a Daytime Emmy for outstanding talk show host in 1990, which resulted in an acceptance speech still remembered to this day. While accepting her award, Rivers got brutally honest about her own life, referencing the suicide of her late husband and hardships she had faced while still managing to make the crowd laugh. The speech sums up the reason Rivers was beloved by audiences up until her death at age 81. She died in August 2014 during a surgery on her vocal cords.

Upon news of her death, her network put out a touching statement that summarized her time in the spotlight. It read in part, "For decades Joan has made people laugh, shattered glass ceilings, and revolutionized comedy. She was unapologetic and fiercely dedicated to entertaining all of us and has left an indelible mark on the people that worked with her and on her legions of fans ... The world is less funny without her in it."

Steve Allen

"The Tonight Show" has featured a long line of hosts, but the very first to anchor the nightly series was Steve Allen. The personality not only served as the first host, but co-created the show, one of the first late-night television talk shows ever. Aside from being a talented talker, Allen was also seemingly a psychic! During the very first episode of "The Tonight Show," he addressed the audience by saying, "I want to give you the bad news first: This program is going to go on forever." And it certainly has!

Though he only did a three-year stint on his brainchild, he didn't leave television. Allen went on to host a self-titled show, "The Steve Allen Show," in various iterations, beginning in 1950. We lost him in 2000 at the age of 78, but his legacy lived on in more ways than one. Aside from "The Tonight Show" continuing to run, currently hosted by Jimmy Fallon, he also inspired a legion of other talented hosts. Upon his death, fellow beloved host Regis Philbin told the New York Post, "He was one of a kind and this is quite a loss. My very first job on a TV show was as a page at NBC in New York for Steve Allen, and I never got over that feeling of awe." Johnny Carson and David Letterman also noted Allen as one of their biggest influences.

James Lipton

James Lipton famously anchored "Inside the Actors Studio" for over two decades, beginning in 1994. Viewers tuned in to Bravo regularly to see him ask their favorite actors the tough questions before the host retired in 2018 at the age of 91. Lipton had a unique ability to get even the biggest A-listers to open up, opting to ask questions of an artistic nature in lieu of gossipy queries. He became somewhat of a pop culture icon in the process — even voicing himself as a character on "The Simpsons" and becoming the frequent subject of "Saturday Night Live" skits, where he was portrayed by Will Ferrell.

The New York Times writer Chris Hedges described the host's interviewing style as a mix of sharp research and smart flattery, allowing him an almost unheard of insight into the serious craft of acting. Lipton himself opened up about his method to Hedges, explaining, "I want to create an environment where people are willing to talk about the craft, not about themselves as people but as artists."

In 2020, the news broke that the 93-year-old had died. Lipton had had bladder cancer. When the world learned of his death, legions of famous folk shared their condolences and memories of the icon. Piers Morgan tweeted, "An absolute master of his craft, always so well prepared," and actor Bryan Cranston wrote on Instagram: "James was insatiably curious and a consummate listener — two cornerstones to being a good actor."

Regis Philbin

Millions of people welcomed our next host into their homes every morning for over three decades. Regis Philbin rose to fame alongside co-host Kathie Lee Gifford on the beloved morning talk show "Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee" beginning in 1988, but he'd actually been working in television since the '60s. The morning talk show catapulted him to fame, and the beloved duo hosted the popular series for 13 years.

When Gifford decided to move on, Philbin remained a fixture on the small screen, enlisting Kelly Ripa as his new co-host. "Live! with Regis and Kelly" ran for another decade, from 2001 until 2011, when Philbin left the morning show. He also found success in the game show genre, hosting "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," "Million Dollar Password" and even the first season of "America's Got Talent."

The legendary host died from natural causes in July 2020 at the age of 88. Fellow host Ellen DeGeneres summed things up best while reacting to the sad news at the time, tweeting, "Regis Philbin spent more time on television than almost anyone. And we were all better for it."

Larry King

Born Larry Zeiger, Larry King captivated viewers with his fascinating interviews on "Larry King Live" from 1985 until 2010. Following that, the talented interviewer hosted "Larry King Now" from 2012 until 2020. On both shows, famous faces came to King due to his non-confrontational interviewing skills. The host was known for presenting open-ended questions and not pushing his guests, who included everyone from celebrities to politicians.

King didn't have much of an interest in school, but got his start in radio in the '60s. Following an embarrassing arrest for grand larceny in the '70s, King worked to rebuild his reputation.  Ted Turner noticed King's talent in the late '70s and recruited him to CNN. 

Despite his advanced age, King continued to be active right up until his death in January 2021. He died from complications of sepsis at age 87, though there had been rumors he had died from COVID-19 after being hospitalized for the virus the previous month. CNN put out a statement after the news broke that read in part, "We mourn the passing of our colleague Larry King. His curiosity about the world propelled his award-winning career in broadcasting, but it was his generosity of spirit that drew the world to him. We are so proud of the 25 years he spent with CNN, where his newsmaker interviews truly put the network on the international stage."