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Gay Byrne, veteran Irish broadcaster, dies aged 85

Gay Byrne

Gay Byrne, the veteran Irish broadcaster who presented the Late Late Show on RTE, has died aged 85, his family says.

The father of two, who had been undergoing treatment for cancer, “died in Howth surrounded by his family” after a long illness, RTE announced.

In a statement, his family said: “It is with sadness that Kathleen, Crona and Suzy wish to announce that their beloved Gay has died peacefully at home today, surrounded by his family.

Sinead O'Connor was one of the guests on Gay Byrne's final episode of the Late Late Show in 1999
Image:Sinead O’Connor was one of the guests on Gay Byrne’s final episode of the Late Late Show in 1999

“We wish to thank everybody for their love and support during Gay’s illness. Particularly the wonderful teams in the Mater Hospital, St Francis Hospice and the Irish Cancer Society”.

RTE director-general, Dee Forbes, called him “a household name” and “an exceptional broadcaster whose unique and ground-breaking style contributed so much to the development of radio and television in this country.

Gay Byrne in the studio on the 15th anniversary of his radio show in 1988
Image:Gay Byrne in the studio on the 15th anniversary of his radio show in 1988

“Gay’s journalistic legacy is as colossal as the man himself – he not only defined generations, but he deftly arbitrated the growth and development of a nation.

“Ireland grew up under Gay Byrne, and we will never see his like again. My deepest sympathies to Kathleen and his family.”

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar tweeted that the man known to millions as “Uncle Gaybo” was “a much-loved figure who changed Ireland for the better in so many ways”.

Former Ireland international footballer Paul McGrath paid tribute to “a man who has always been so kind to me over my career”.

Ireland’s president, Michael D Higgins, described him on Twitter as a man “of great charisma” who “exuded warmth and presence, who was possessed of effortless wit, charm and who had a flair for broadcasting.

“This was combined with an innate gentleness as a person, professionalism and humour.”

Modern-day presenter and comedian Dara O Briain tweeted that it was “hard to explain how huge a presence he was in Ireland for 40+ years”.

Born in Dublin in 1934, Byrne began working as a radio newsreader and continuity announcer in the late 1950s before moving to Granada Television in Manchester, where he worked on a variety of shows, interviewing acts including The Beatles.

In 1961 he hosted the Late Late Show for the first time in a stint that lasted nearly 40 years.

The programme, a mix of showbiz, music and debate, would go on to become one of the world’s longest-running chat shows.

U2, Sinead O’Connor and The Pogues were among the artists to perform on the show, which came to be seen as a barometer of a rapidly-changing country.

Gay Byrne kisses his daughter Suzy(12) on the day of her Confirmation watched by Crona(15) looks on
He also presented a long-running radio show on RTE Radio 1, first known as The Gay Byrne Hour and then The Gay Byrne Show.

The programme pioneered listener engagement, with listeners writing in and later phoning Gay about the issues of the day or problems close to their hearts.

His other presenting credits included The Rose of Tralee, The Calor Housewife of the Year competition and more.

Byrne presented his final daily radio show in 1998 and his final Late Late Show the following summer.

He is survived by his wife Kathleen, their daughters Crona and Suzy, and their families.

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