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Sir Michael Parkinson, one of Britain’s most popular TV presenters, has died aged 88 after a decades-long career for the BBC and ITV.
Parkinson’s was a star of the golden age of chat shows in the 1970s to 1990s, when millions of people in the UK flocked to watch his primetime interviews with celebrities and sports stars.
The presenter said he had interviewed more than 2,000 people on his talk shows, which started in 1971 on the BBC, although he switched to commercial broadcaster ITV at several points in his career.
His guests included John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Billy Connolly, Orson Welles and Sir Tony Blair – who sparked controversy when he told the presenter that God would be the judge of his decision to go to war in Iraq.
Among his most famous interviews is the boxer Muhammad Ali. Parkinson said afterwards that the sportsman was both his most notable interviewee but also the one he had “lost to at every opportunity”.
“I’m not going to argue with you,” Parkinson told the boxer in an interview. “You’re not as stupid as you look,” Ali replied.
Parkinson was also well known for his stints in other forms of light television entertainment, presenting ITV’s TV-am breakfast show, the game show Give us a hintand BBC One go for a song and radio show Desert Island Discs.
In another well-known encounter, Parkinson was playfully attacked by Rod Hull’s Emu puppet. His last show on ITV1 in 2007 had an 8.3 minute viewership and guests included Peter Kay, Sir Billy Connolly and Dame Judi Dench.
A statement from Parkinson’s family said: “After a brief illness, Sir Michael Parkinson passed away peacefully at his home last night in the company of his family. The family asks that they be given privacy and time to grieve.
BBC Director General Tim Davie said Parkinson was “one of a kind, an incredible broadcaster and journalist who will be sorely missed”.
“Michael was the king of the chat show and he set the format for all the presenters and shows that followed,” Davie added. “Michael was not only brilliant at asking questions, he was also a wonderful listener.”
Parkinson combined journalistic wit and intelligence with his warm, avuncular Yorkshire accent; he was born in 1935 in South Yorkshire and was a keen county cricket player. He was married for over 60 years to Lady Mary Parkinson and they had three children, Michael, Nicholas and Andrew. He was knighted in 2008.
In tributes on Thursday morning, Lord Alan Sugar said Parkinson’s death was “the end of an era”, while comedian Eddie Izzard called him the “king of the smart interview”.
Writer and presenter Stephen Fry said that “Parky’s genius was that unlike most people (and most of his guests, myself included), he was always 100% himself. On camera and off camera.