Death of Irish broadcasting legend Gay Byrne at 85

File Photo Gay Byrne Has Died. End. Irish boardcaster Gay Byrne at Dublin Castle in Dublin for a Gala Dinner in his honour organised by the Northern Ireland Reconciliation Fund. 22/5/2001 Photo: RollingNews.ie
Irish broadcasting legend Gay Byrne, who created RTE’s groundbreaking and pioneering live broadcast The Late, Late Show, has died aged 85 after a long illness.
 
President Michael D Higgins led the tributes:
 
“It is with deep sadness I have learned of the death of legendary broadcaster, Gay Byrne.
 
“Having begun his career in broadcasting with Radio Éireann in 1958, he retained a love of radio as a medium. With the arrival of television he went on to become one of the most recognisable faces of Irish broadcasting, hosting one of the world’s longest running chat shows – The Late Late Show.
 
“A man of great charisma, Gay Byrne was someone 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.
 
“Through his work in radio and on television he challenged Irish society, and shone a light not only on the bright but also the dark sides of Irish life. In doing so, he became one of the most familiar and distinctive voices of our times, helping shape our conscience, our self-image, and our idea of who we might be. Beyond compassion, which he had in abundance, he had a sense of what was just.
 
“Sabina and I wish to express our deepest sympathy to his wife Kathleen, his daughters Suzy and Crona, his grandchildren, and all his friends and colleagues.”
 
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said 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 the Road Safety Authority and saw the effectiveness of his campaign against the needless tragedy of road deaths.
 
“On radio and on television over so many decades ‘Uncle Gaybo’ provided a voice for all those who had been silenced or were afraid to speak up, and helped us confront things that needed to be changed.
 
“Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis,” he said.

Gay Byrne, affectionately known as Gaybo, enjoyed a never to be repeated broadcasting career over six decades.

He was born in Rialto, Dublin, on 5 August 1934 and went to Synge Street Christian Brothers’ School, one of many high achievers to have been taught there.

He joined Radio Eireann in 1958 as a newsreader and continuity announcer when it was in the GPO off O’connell Street and presented a 15-minute jazz show every Monday night.

He quickly moved to the pioneering Granada Television in Manchester, where he worked on a variety of shows, interviewing acts including an ‘up and coming beat combo’ called The Beatles.

For a time he commuted between Dublin and Manchester – ‘strap-hanging on late night flights’ – working for Granada, the BBC and RTE.

He returned to Ireland full-time when on 5 July 1962 he became the presenter and producer of a pioneering, revolutionary new show on Ireland’s brand new, first ever television station.

He was to host The Late Late Show for the next 37 years.

The programme is today the world’s longest running ‘chat’ show but under Gay Byrne it was so much more than just a chat show with celebrities plugging their latest product.

 

He presented his last edition of the show just over 20 years ago on 21 May 1999 during which he was memorably presented with a Harley-Davidson motorcycle by U2’s Bono and Larry Mullen Jr, who had appeared on the show very early in their career as they started out.

He returned to the programme as a guest on two occasions during the first season of Ryan Tubridy, who had been a protégé of Byrne’s, working as a talented researcher on both the Late Show and Byrne’s radio shows, The Gay Byrne Hour which was later called The Gay Byrne Show.

Ten years ago, in April 2009, Gaybo began presenting a programme called The Meaning of Life in which he interviewed high-profile figures about life, faith and meaning.

Last year Gay Byrne admitted that some days the fight against his prostate cancer made him want to “lie down and die.”

He said: “What choice have I got? You either fight, or you lie down and die. Believe me, there are some days when you want to lie down and die, every cancer sufferer in the country will tell you that but you do the best you can — and follow the treatment.”

He died peacefully at home surrounded by his familywhobroke the news in a statement on Monday: “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.”

RTÉ Director-General Dee Forbes said: “We are all greatly saddened by the passing of Gay Byrne who has been a household name in this country for so many years.

“Gay was 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.”

Chair of RTÉ Moya Doherty (who co-created Riverdance) said: “Writing about the importance of Gay Byrne has for me both a professional, as Chair of the RTE Board, and a personal dimension, as a close and cherished friend for many years.

“The more I considered it the more I realised that this was not a contradiction in any way since this is exactly how Gay existed and worked bringing the professional and the personal together to increase understanding in the audiences he addressed. In many ways Gay was the epitome of the old adage that the personal is political.

“He was, of course, fortunate to be working at the moment when television and radio were in their golden age, when Ireland was beginning to think deeply about what it meant to be a global presence in a rapidly changing social and cultural world. But into this context Gay brought two unique gifts.

“He was able to see around societal corners and predict what the next emerging social, political, or cultural issue was, the new issue which needed to be brought to the public stage, whatever the ensuing controversy. To these issues Gay brought an unswerving curiosity asking exactly the questions his audience needed answered.

“Most importantly Gay was a listener. He did not so much interview as allow his guests to almost interview themselves while he listened carefully interjecting only to push them on key points.

“Combined with this he had an unerring capacity to spot new talent and even if he did not personally much like what that talent might be he still knew the significance it might have in showcasing Ireland to the world.

“On a personal level he was a true and trusted friend, happy to chide when necessary but always gentle and loyal in his support.

“The Ireland we know today was in many aspects framed by the work which Gay Byrne did over many years and when we look at RTE today we can only feel blessed that we stand on the shoulders on one of the giants of world public service broadcasting. Thank you Gay. We, as a nation, owe you a great debt”.

Last year Gay Byrne admitted that some days the fight against his prostate cancer made him want to “lie down and die.”

He said: “What choice have I got? You either fight, or you lie down and die. Believe me, there are some days when you want to lie down and die, every cancer sufferer in the country will tell you that but you do the best you can — and follow the treatment.”

The current Late Late Show host Ryan Tubridy, who apprenticed under Gaybo on radio and TV, said that the death of his predecessor and mentor left a “profound sadness”.

He said Ireland “has lost an icon”.

He said: “It is with enormous and profound sadness that I heard of the passing of my friend and mentor, Gay Byrne. He was the master, a once off and the likes of which we will never see again.

“I watched him as a child, worked alongside him as a young man and he guided me as I grew older and I will forever be indebted to him.

“We in RTE have lost a friend, a family have lost a father and a husband and the country has lost an icon. May he rest in peace.”

RTE Radio One presenter Joe Duffy described Gay Byrne’s broadcasts as a “public joy”.

“More so than any one individual, Gay Byrne represented modern Ireland and through his daily broadcasting on radio and television he propelled this country and its people forward.

“In no other country can one individual claim to have had such a positive impact on an entire nation over such a long period.

“Ireland is a better country thanks to Gay’s lengthy career behind the microphone at the centre of public discourse.

“He brightened and enlightened the lives of so many people through his broadcasting, his charm, wit, voice, and wonderful command of the English language.

“His broadcasts were a public joy, a personal pleasure and comfort to so many. Like so many I feel his passing as a deeply personal loss.

“He was a generous mentor and good friend to me, as he was to so many.

“Above all, condolences to his wife Kathleen, his loving daughters Susie and Crona, his sons in law and his much loved grandchildren, who have been such a support to him in his very difficult illness.

Sports commentator Marty Morrissey said that Gay Byrne was his hero.

He tweeted: “Ireland’s Greatest Broadcaster Gay Byrne was hero to me & others who were inspired by his awesome talent to follow him into broadcasting.

“He was such a caring and giving man, with a generous soul and who only ever had good things to say. The world of TV and indeed the world has lost a legend.”

A Book of Condolences will be open for signing at The Mansion House, Dawson Street, Dublin 2 tomorrow at 11am – 5pm and Wednesday: 10am – 5pm.

Further tributes to follow here and in this week’s Irish World.

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