Sir Michael Parkinson: A tribute to the chat show king, diet at 88
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Sir Michael Parkinson, the legendary British broadcaster and talk show host, has died at the age of 88, his family announced on Thursday. He passed away peacefully at his home after a brief illness, surrounded by his loved ones. Sir Michael Parkinson was known for his long-running chat show Parkinson, which aired from 1971 to 2007 on BBC and ITV, and featured interviews with some of the world’s most famous celebrities, such as Muhammad Ali, Madonna, Sir Paul McCartney and Dame Helen Mirren.
He also had a distinguished career as a journalist, working for the Guardian, the Daily Express and TV-am. He was awarded a CBE in 2000 and a knighthood in 2008 for his services to broadcasting. Sir Michael is survived by his wife Mary, whom he married in 1959, and their three sons and eight grandchildren.
From coal miner’s son to TV star
Sir Michael was born on March 28, 1935, in Cudworth, a mining village in South Yorkshire. His father was a coal miner who took him down the pit when he was 14 to dissuade him from following in his footsteps. Sir Michael later said that this experience made him determined to pursue a different career path. He left school with two O-levels and started working as a reporter for a local newspaper. He then joined the Manchester Guardian (later renamed the Guardian) and moved to London to work for the Daily Express. He also served two years in the British army as part of his national service.
Sir Michael Parkinson made his television debut in 1962 as a current affairs presenter and reporter for Granada TV. He then joined the BBC in 1965 and worked on various programmes, including 24 Hours and The Frost Programme. In 1971, he was offered his own talk show on BBC One, which he named Parkinson.
The master of celebrity interviews
Parkinson was an instant hit with viewers and critics alike, thanks to Sir Michael’s relaxed and engaging style of interviewing. He had a knack for drawing out personal stories and opinions from his guests, who ranged from Hollywood stars and pop icons to politicians and sports heroes. He also had a sense of humour and could handle difficult or awkward situations with grace.
Some of his most memorable interviews include:
- Muhammad Ali: Sir Michael Parkinson interviewed the boxing legend four times between 1971 and 1981, and they developed a rapport that was both playful and respectful. Ali often teased Sir Michael about his accent, his questions and his appearance, but also praised him as a “great man”. Sir Michael later said that Ali was “the most remarkable man” he ever met.
- Helen Mirren: In 1975, Sir Michael Parkinson interviewed a young Helen Mirren, who was then known for her risque roles on stage and screen. He asked her about her sex appeal, her “equipment” and her reputation as a “serious actress”. Mirren challenged him on his sexist remarks and defended her artistic choices. The interview sparked controversy at the time and was revisited by Mirren in 2006, when she returned to Parkinson as an Oscar-winning star.
- Rod Hull and Emu: In 1976, Sir Michael Parkinson faced one of his most chaotic guests: Rod Hull’s puppet Emu. The blue-feathered bird attacked Sir Michael on the sofa, biting his nose, pulling his hair and wrestling him to the ground. Sir Michael tried to keep his composure but eventually lost control of the situation. The clip became one of the most iconic moments in British TV history.
- Billy Connolly: Sir Michael Parkinson gave Billy Connolly his big break in 1975, when he invited him on his show after hearing him on a cassette tape. Connolly had the audience in stitches with his jokes about religion, death and sex. His appearance made him an overnight sensation and launched his career as one of Britain’s most successful comedians.
- Meg Ryan: In 2003, Sir Michael Parkinson interviewed Meg Ryan, who was promoting her film In The Cut. The interview was tense and awkward from the start, as Ryan seemed reluctant to answer Sir Michael’s questions or engage with him. She gave short or sarcastic responses and appeared uncomfortable with being in the spotlight. Sir Michael eventually asked her what she would do if she were him, to which she replied: “Just wrap it up”.
A legacy of excellence
Sir Michael Parkinson ended Parkinson in 2007 after more than 800 episodes and over 2,000 interviews. He said he wanted to quit while he was still at the top of his game and explore other projects. He continued to work on radio, books and documentaries, as well as hosting a Sky Arts series called Michael Parkinson: Masterclass from 2012 to 2014.
In 2013, he revealed that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent radiotherapy treatment. He said he was given the all-clear in 2015. He also suffered from a spinal condition that affected his mobility and speech.
Sir Michael Parkinson was widely regarded as one of the best interviewers of all time and an inspiration for many aspiring broadcasters. He received numerous awards and honours for his work, including a BAFTA fellowship, a Royal Television Society lifetime achievement award and an International Emmy. He was made a CBE in 2000 and a knight in 2008.
Sir Michael Parkinson died on August 16, 2023, at his home in Berkshire. He was 88 years old. His family said in a statement: “After a brief illness Sir Michael Parkinson passed away peacefully at home last night in the company of his family. The family request that they are given privacy and time to grieve.”
Sir Michael is survived by his wife Mary, whom he married in 1959, and their three sons and eight grandchildren. He is also remembered by millions of fans who enjoyed his shows and interviews over the years.