jpaar.jpgJack Harold Paar, a pioneer of the late-night talk show format, died on Jan. 27. Cause of death was not released. He was 85.
The Ohio-native dropped out of high school at 16 and cured himself of a stutter by becoming a radio announcer. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army with the 28th Special Service Company, entertaining troops in the South Pacific as a standup comedian. Upon his return to the states, a magazine declared that Paar was “the most promising star of tomorrow.” But he spent another decade appearing in minor movie roles and short-lived TV programs before America welcomed him into their homes each night.
On July 29, 1957, Paar took over NBC’s “The Tonight Show” and turned it into an interview program. For five years, the emotional and comedic host shared TV time with a variety of guests, from a young boxer named Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali) to pianist-composer Oscar Levant to Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Paar championed the comedic talents of Bob Newhart, Carol Burnett, Woody Allen and Bill Cosby, and in 1960, gabbed with presidential candidate John F. Kennedy.
When Johnny Carson took over “The Tonight Show” in 1962, the legendary entertainer launched “The Jack Paar Program,” a prime-time talk show on Friday nights. He headlined the show for three seasons, then retired from TV. Parr spent the remaining years of his life out of the public eye, mostly traveling, painting and writing books.
Listen to an NPR Interview With Parr