Veteran Irish broadcaster Gay Byrne dies aged 85
Gay Byrne, the veteran Irish broadcaster who presented the Late Late Show on RTE and a popular radio show, has died aged 85, his family says.
The father-of-two, who had been undergoing treatment for cancer, “died in Howth surrounded by his family” after a long illness, RTE announced.
In a statement, his family said: “It is with sadness that Kathleen, Crona and Suzy wish to announce that their beloved Gay has died peacefully at home today, surrounded by his family.
“We wish to thank everybody for their love and support during Gay’s illness. Particularly the wonderful teams in the Mater Hospital, St Francis Hospice and the Irish Cancer Society”.
RTE Director-General, Dee Forbes, called him “a household name” and “an exceptional broadcaster whose unique and ground-breaking style contributed so much to the development of radio and television in this country.
“Gay’s journalistic legacy is as colossal as the man himself – he not only defined generations, but he deftly arbitrated the growth and development of a nation.
“Ireland grew up under Gay Byrne, and we will never see his like again. My deepest sympathies to Kathleen and his family.”
Gay Byrne was the most influential broadcaster in the history of the State, a much-loved figure who changed Ireland for the better in so many ways. I knew him when he was Chairman of @RSAIreland and saw the effectiveness of his campaign against the needless tragedy of road deaths
— Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) November 4, 2019
Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar tweeted that the man known to millions as “Uncle Gaybo” was “a much-loved figure who changed Ireland for the better in so many ways”.
Former Ireland international footballer Paul McGrath paid tribute to “a man who has always been so kind to me over my career”.
Ireland’s president, Michael D Higgins, described him on Twitter as a man “of great charisma” who “exuded warmth and presence, who was possessed of effortless wit, charm and who had a flair for broadcasting.
“This was combined with an innate gentleness as a person, professionalism and humour.”
Very sad to hear of the death of Gay Byrne. Hard to explain how huge a presence he was in Ireland for 40+ years; a legendary, instinctual broadcaster; that rarest thing, a gifted listener; and an interviewer of huge emotional intelligence. An enormous life.
— Dara Ó Briain (@daraobriain) November 4, 2019
Modern-day presenter and comedian Dara O’Briain tweeted that it was “Hard to explain how huge a presence he was in Ireland for 40+ years”.
Born in Dublin in 1934, Byrne began working as a radio newsreader and continuity announcer in the late 1950s before moving to Granada Television in Manchester, where he worked on a variety of shows, interviewing acts including The Beatles.
In 1961 he hosted the Late Late Show for the first time in a stint that lasted nearly 40 years.
The programme, a mix of showbiz, music and debate, would go on to become one of the world’s longest-running chat shows.
U2, Sinead O’Connor and The Pogues were among the artists to perform on the show, which came to be seen as a barometer of a rapidly-changing country.
He also presented a long-running radio show on RTE Radio 1, first known as The Gay Byrne Hour and then The Gay Byrne Show.
The programme pioneered listener engagement, with listeners writing in and later phoning Gay about the issues of the day or problems close to their hearts.
His other presenting credits included The Rose of Tralee, The Calor Housewife of the Year competition and more.
We are saddened to hear of the passing of Gay Byrne. Gay’s loyalty & friendship towards the Festival was exceptional, said so much about his generosity & his commitment as a professional broadcaster. Everybody associated with our Festival will miss him greatly.#roseoftralee pic.twitter.com/U1f5kMxfza
— Rose of Tralee (@RoseofTralee_) November 4, 2019
Byrne presented his final daily radio show in 1998 and his final Late Late Show the following summer.
He is survived by his wife Kathleen, their daughters Crona and Suzy, and their families.