Legendary broadcaster and talk show host Sir Michael Parkinson dies aged 88

17 August 2023, 10:10 | Updated: 17 August 2023, 14:07

Sir Michael Parkinson, main image with his wife Mary, and inset with some of his famous interviewees, has died at the age of 88
Sir Michael Parkinson, main image with his wife Mary, and inset with some of his famous interviewees, has died at the age of 88. Picture: Alamy/BBC archive

By Asher McShane

Broadcaster and chat show host Sir Michael Parkinson has died at the age of 88.

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He became a household name interviewing high-profile celebrities including Muhammad Ali, Sir Billy Connolly, Sir Elton John and Dame Helen Mirren among others. Sir Michael said boxer Muhammad Ali was his favourite ever interview.

The director-general of the BBC described him as "the king of the chat show" and an "incredible broadcaster and journalist".

In a statement, Tim Davie said: "Michael was the king of the chat show and he defined the format for all the presenters and shows that followed.

"He interviewed the biggest stars of the 20th century and did so in a way that enthralled the public. Michael was not only brilliant at asking questions, he was also a wonderful listener.

"Michael was truly one of a kind, an incredible broadcaster and journalist who will be hugely missed."

Sir Michael, who was fondly called 'Parky' by friends and fans, became one of the most famous names in Britain after his seminal interviews.

There were also notoriously uncomfortable celebrity encounters. He was attacked while speaking to Rod Hull and Emu and uncounted a tetchy Meg Ryan.

Sir Michael Parkinson at the Hay Festival bookshop signing copies of his book My Sporting Life in May this year
Sir Michael Parkinson at the Hay Festival bookshop signing copies of his book My Sporting Life in May this year. Picture: Alamy

A statement from Sir Michael's family said: "After a brief illness Sir Michael Parkinson passed away peacefully at home last night in the company of his family.

"The family request that they are given privacy and time to grieve."

In 2013 the presenter revealed he was receiving radiotherapy treatment for prostate cancer.

He said he got the all-clear from doctors two years later.

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Sir Michael said his favourite interview ever was with Muhammad Ali
Sir Michael said his favourite interview ever was with Muhammad Ali. Picture: BBC

Sir Michael, was born in Cudworth, near Barnsley, in 1935. He left school aged 16 and cut his teeth in journalism at the Barnsley Chronicle before being drafted for National Service.

After becoming the youngest captain in the Army, Sir Michael joined the Daily Express.

His big break on Fleet Street came after he was handed a weekly sports column in The Sunday Times in 1965. Sir Michael moved from newspapers to television in the late 1960s when he was offered a role on Granada as a local reporter.

Sir Michael interviewing John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Sir Michael interviewing John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Picture: BBC

He was made a CBE in 2000 and was knighted in 2008.

Parky, who presented his programme Parkinson from 1971 to 1982 and again from 1998 to 2007, was last seen in public in April. He appeared frail as he celebrated his friend Dickie Bird's 90th birthday bash.

He also hosted two seasons of Parkinson: Masterclass on Sky Arts in 2012 and 2013.

The broadcasting legend, who lived in Berkshire with his wife Mary, has previously spoken about his long-running chat show.

Speaking about his legendary tv chat shows he said: "I had the best of it, in terms of the guests I could choose from."

"The older ones and the newer ones, and also the kind of television that was being shown in those days. It was bliss."

Of his favourites, Parkinson still counts iconic footballer George Best, with whom he developed a deep friendship before his premature death aged 59, following a liver transplant.

He also counts Sir Billy Connolly among his favourite interviews, and praised the comedian as "a natural funny man".

Sir Elton John said he "loved" Sir Michael's company as he paid tribute to the late broadcaster on Instagram.

The 76-year-old Rocketman singer wrote: "Michael Parkinson was a TV legend who was one of the greats. I loved his company and his incredible knowledge of cricket and Barnsley Football Club.

"A real icon who brought out the very best in his guests."

Comedian Stephen Fry said being interviewed by Sir Michael Parkinson was "impossibly thrilling".

On Instagram, Fry wrote: "The genius of Parky was that (unlike most people (and most of his guests, me included) he was always 100% himself. On camera and off. "Authentic" is the word I suppose.

"For one of the shows I was on with Robin Williams, a genius of unimaginable comic speed and brilliance. Now they're both gone.

"One should get used to the parade of people constantly falling off the edge, but frankly one doesn't. So long #parky."

Sir David Attenborough said that Sir Michael's northern accent was "a very refreshing voice in those days", hailing him as the "king of the intelligent interview".

"That's not quite true, you knew he was not a southerner, you knew he was a northerner and that was a very refreshing voice in those days and you knew that he would do his homework and that he would ask questions that didn't occur to you."

"(Michael was) extremely professional, you knew that he would know all the background and you didn't have to fill in anything.

"He was extremely generous, he wanted you to shine and would always laugh at your jokes and give you an opportunity to make them sound funnier than in fact they were."

British singer and actress Elaine Paige paid tribute to Sir Michael Parkinson describing him as a "legendary interviewer". Sharing a picture of the pair, she said: "Such very sad breaking news that Sir Michael Parkinson has died.

"Have known him for many years, sang on his TV chat show & attended many events with him.

"A legendary interviewer that will be remembered as the best of his profession. We will never see his like again."

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