A venerable American icon for decades, the Chicagoan talk show host Mike Douglas skirted the pro-free speech bellicosity of his contemporary Phil Donahue and the wry wit of Johnny Carson. Douglas instead cultivated a relaxed, amiable, no-gimmicks manner before studio cameras, and turned his program into a virtual window of contemporary pop culture, with the foremost actors, actresses, comedians, musicians, politicos, and sports figures as centerpieces. He drew in a loyal audience of millions that, because of the program's midday time slot, predominantly consisted of Middle American housewives. The Mike Douglas Show debuted one afternoon in 1961, and ran for an unprecedented 21 years. Douglas frequently highlighted the series with his own musical appearances, as a pop balladeer. In the end, he tallied around 6,000 episodes, of 90 minutes each.
Born in 1925, Douglas launched himself into showbiz as a nightclub and radio crooner, and -- after a military stint -- he became a fixture on the series Kay Kyser's Kollege of Musical Knowledge. In the early-'60s, Westinghouse group program director Woody Fraser invited Douglas to headline a Cleveland-based talk series, and the rest is, as they say, history. Douglas appeared in scattered films over the decades, often in mildly satirical turns as himself (as in the 1981 Joel Schumacher comedy fantasy The Incredible Shrinking Woman). He debuted on the big screen in the 1971 James Clavell-directed (and scripted) epic The Last Valley, as Stoffel. Subsequent appearances included a turn as himself in Let It Be helmer Michael Lindsay-Hogg's Watergate satire Nasty Habits (1976); the Governor in that same year's Burt Reynolds/Jerry Reed vehicle Gator; and a brief appearance in the 1986 Roger Spottiswoode-directed football comedy The Best of Times.
Douglas died on August 11, 2006, in a West Palm Beach, FL hospital, of unspecified causes, about a week after being admitted for dehydration. It was his 81st birthday.