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'Tomorrow' host Snyder dies at 71

  • Story Highlights
  • Tom Snyder hosted "Tomorrow," "Late Late Show"
  • Interviewed a number of newsmakers, including John Lennon, Charles Manson
  • NEW: NBC replaced show with Letterman; CBS show produced by Letterman
  • Known for clipped speech, ever-present cigarette; parodied by Dan Aykroyd
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SAN FRANCISCO, California (AP) -- Tom Snyder, who pioneered the late-late network TV talk show with a personal yet abrasive style and his robust, trademark laugh, has died from complications associated with leukemia. He was 71.

Snyder

Tom Snyder is most closely associated with "The Tomorrow Show," which he hosted from 1973 to 1982.

Snyder died Sunday in San Francisco, his longtime producer and friend Mike Horowicz told The Associated Press on Monday.

"Tom was a fighter," Horowicz said. "I know he had tried many different treatments."

Prickly and ego-driven, Snyder conducted numerous memorable interviews as host of NBC's "Tomorrow," which followed Johnny Carson's "Tonight" show from 1973 to '82. A signature was the constant billowing of cigarette smoke around his head.

Snyder's style, his show's set and the show itself marked an abrupt change at 1 a.m. from Carson's program. Snyder might joke with the crew in the sparsely appointed studio, but he was more likely to joust with guests such as the irascible science fiction writer Harlan Ellison.

Snyder had John Lennon's final televised interview (April 1975) and U2's first U.S. television appearance in June 1981.

One of his most riveting interviews was with Charles Manson, who would go from a calm demeanor to acting like a wild-eyed, insanity-spouting mass murderer and back again.

Another wacky moment came when Plasmatics lead singer Wendy O. Williams blew up a TV in the studio; in another appearance she demolished a car. Yet another time, Johnny Rotten decided he really wasn't in the mood to be on a talk show and acted indifferent for an excruciating 12 minutes.

In 1982, the show was canceled after a messy attempt to make it into a talk-variety show called "Tomorrow Coast to Coast." It added a live audience and co-hostess Rona Barrett -- all of which Snyder clearly disdained.

The time slot was taken over by a hot young comedian named David Letterman.

Born in Milwaukee, Snyder began his career as a radio reporter in his home town in the 1960s, then moved into local television news, anchoring newscasts in Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles before moving to late night.

"He loved the broadcast business," said Marciarose Shestack, who co-anchored a noontime newscast with Snyder at KYW-TV in Philadelphia in the 1960s. "He was very surprising and very irreverent and not at all a typical newscaster."

He returned to local anchoring in New York after "Tomorrow" left the air. He eventually hosted an ABC radio talk show before easing back into television on CNBC.

His catch phrase: "Fire up a colortini, sit back, relax, and watch the pictures, now, as they fly through the air."

Letterman, a longtime Snyder admirer, brought him back to network television, creating "The Late Late Show" on CBS to follow his own program. (Subsequently, the format and hosts have changed, with Craig Kilborn and now Craig Ferguson.)

Snyder gained fame in his heyday when Dan Aykroyd spoofed him in the early days of "Saturday Night Live." His chain-smoking, black beetle brows (contrasting with his mostly gray hair), mercurial manner and self-indulgent, digressive way of asking questions as well as his clipped speech pattern made for a distinctive sendup.

Snyder announced on his Web site in 2005 that he had chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

"When I was a kid leukemia was a death sentence," he wrote then. "Now, my doctors say it's treatable!"

Horowicz met Snyder in 1982 and worked with him at WABC-TV in New York. Snyder's curiosity, Horowicz said, allowed him to navigate between local news and talk shows with ease.

Snyder is survived by his daughter and longtime girlfriend. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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