The original “Today” show host battled depression and coped with his wife's suicide.
By: Legacy Staff
5 years ago
Hosting morning television was a different ball game when Dave Garroway introduced it in January 1952. Here’s how a New York Times critic described the original "Today" show host: "He does not crash into the home with the false jollity and thunderous witticisms of a backslapper. He is pleasant, serious, scholarly looking and not obtrusively convivial." Another called him "tutor, guide, inquisitor, philosopher, maestro and companion. He was born to television."
Sounds downright civilized compared to today’s TV morning shows (and not just the "Today" show!) but that was the style of this TV pioneer: low key, easy going and relaxed.
It stunned his fans then when he died July 21, 1982 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Though he battled depression – exacerbated when his second wife, ballerina Pamela Wilde, died of a prescription drug overdose in 1961, not long before he left "Today" – his signature style was always intact: affable, a little scholarly and gently humorous. Oh, and don’t forget the horn-rimmed glasses, bow ties and daily sign off: “Peace.”
David Cunningham Garroway was born on July 13, 1913 – 100 years ago today – in Schenectady, New York. He graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 1935 and was a disc jockey for a radio station in Chicago. His first exposure to a national audience was in a musical variety show aired from Chicago. When he was selected to launch "Today," program executive Sylvester J. Weaver told him to “…wake America, wash it, dress it, give it breakfast and send it to work.”
And so he did – along with co-hosts like chimpanzee J. Fred Muggs (now that sounds more like the morning shows we know and love) – taking viewers to far-flung places like Paris, Rome and introducing them to actors, artists and politicians in a new, conversational and accessible way. He hosted a radio show right after "Today" went off the air each day, as well as a 90-minute documentary series called "Wide Wide World" and "The Dave Garroway Show" on Friday evenings. He was seemingly indefatigable. And for those who couldn’t get enough, there was a board game that debuted in 1960 called “Dave Garroway’s 'Today' Game.”
Depressed and disheartened by the death of his wife, though, there were days he disappeared during the morning broadcast and disagreements with staff. "Things were never quite the same after her suicide," said Barbara Walters, who was hired by Mr. Garroway to be a writer on "Today." "He was depressed at that time, and the hours of the show got to him."
On June 16, 1961, he said good-by to his good-morning show.
After leaving the show, Garroway tried his hand at educational television, a return to radio and, ever “the Communicator,” even started a magazine. He studied a little acting, narrated a compilation of songs performed by the Boston Pops Orchestra, and wrote a book to amuse children on road trips. But he was increasingly absent from the public eye as he began gathering materials for an autobiography that was never completed.
Dave Garroway was married three times – his third wife was astronomer Sarah Lee Lippincott – and was survived by three children. Because of his interest in mental health, his widow helped establish the Dave Garroway Laboratory for the Study of Depression at the University of Pennsylvania.
He did pay a visit to the "Today" show for the 30th anniversary in January 1982 and even thought he’d be around for the 35th five years later, but, of course, he was not. Following heart surgery, he was having health complications and took his life. He is buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.
Susan Soper is the author of ObitKit®, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she has written for Newsday and CNN, and was Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief."