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Tuesday, 31 October, 2000, 23:25 GMT
TV legend Steve Allen dies
Steve Allen
Allen: One of America's great renaissance figures
Steve Allen, the legendary US comedian and musician who pioneered late-night television with the Tonight Show in the 1950s, has died aged 78.

He sufferered a suspected heart attack at the home of his youngest son Bill, in Encino, Los Angeles on Monday night.

All of us who have hosted the Tonight Show format owe a debt of gratitude to Steve Allen

Johnny Carson
"He said he was a little tired after dinner," Bill Allen said. "He went to relax, peacefully, and never reawakened."

As well as a groundbreaking TV career, the tall, broad-shouldered star, his owlish appearance compounded by thick horn-rimmed glasses, was prolific composer, writing more than 4,000 songs, and penning 40 books.

Allen Elvis
Allen pioneered late-night TV - here on stage with Elvis
His biggest hits were Impossible and This Could Be The Start Of Something Big, and he penned the Broadway revue "Seymour Glick is Alive but Sick."

Allen also starred in the title role of the 1956 film The Benny Goodman Story and appeared in such films as The Comic (1969).

He once said, "One of the secrets of my success, if you can call it that, is that I don't waste any time. If they invented a nine-day week I would work nine days."

Creative innovator

He set off on the road to fame as a radio disc jockey, which earned him slots as a panellist on the popular 1950s TV show What's My Line.

In 1953 he made television history by becoming the first host of NBC's Tonight Show, a mantle taken on later by such luminaries as Johnny Carson and the current host, Jay Leno.

If they invented a nine-day week I would work nine days

Steve Allen
Allen's popularity led the network to introduce The Steve Allen Show in 1956, which went up against CBS's Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday nights.

Mr Carson, who fronted Tonight for 30 years from 1962, issued a statement saying how saddened he was by the news.

"All of us who have hosted the Tonight Show format owe a debt of gratitude to Steve Allen," he said. "He was a most creative innovator and brilliant entertainer."

Comic Art Linkletter, a friend for almost 60 years, described him as "one of the great renaissance figures of today".

He left NBC for ABC in 1960 but never quite regained the superstardom he had on enjoyed in the 1950s.

He once said his proudest time on television was developing the series "Meeting of the Minds" that featured chats with Sigmund Freud and the philosophers of ancient Greece.

'Combatting filth'

In recent years, Allen had courted controversy by speaking out on sex, violence and vulgarity on TV, referring to the "moral failure of the marketplace".

Hugh Grant appears on Tonight with Jay Leno
Tonight: Jay Leno (right) currently holds the chair
He was spokesman and honorary chairman of the conservative media lobby group Parents Television Council, whose campaigns have targeted shock jock Howard Stern and WWF wrestling (dubbed "one of the most violent and vulgar shows on prime time network TV").

Although he provoked criticism from free-speech campaigners, Allen was a long way from being sidelined in the broad-minded 1980s and 1990s, making dozens guest appearances, often playing himself, and in cutting edge programmes.

These included cameos in the TV series The Simpsons, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, St Elsewhere, Homicide: Life on the Street as well as in Martin Scorsese's brutal film about the Las Vegas mob, Casino.

He is survived by his wife of 46 years, the actress Jayne Meadows, four sons and 11 grandchildren.

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