The original ''Tonight Show'' host and composer of thousands of songs is mourned by many

By Lori Reese
Updated October 31, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST
Credit: Allen: Steve Granitz/Retna

Entertainment pioneer Steve Allen — the original host of ”The Tonight Show” and author of more than 7,000 songs and 49 books — died Monday night at the age of 78 from an apparent heart attack in his son Bill’s home in Encino, Calif. The comedian had been playing with 4 of his 11 grandchildren when he lost consciousness, according to relatives. ”He said he was a little tired after dinner,” Bill Allen told the Associated Press. ”He went to relax, peacefully, and never reawakened.” Allen is survived by his wife Jayne Meadows and four sons.

Allen’s diverse career spanned five decades. Besides starting ”The Tonight Show” in 1953 (originally called ”Tonight”) and hosting ”The Steve Allen Show” from 1956 to ’61, he also starred in the 1956 movie ”The Benny Goodman Story,” and penned plays and recorded albums of his inspired ad lib shtick. He has said that he was most proud of his 1977 award winning television show, ”Meeting of the Minds,” in which he moderated imaginary debates between historical personages such as Charles Darwin and Attila the Hun. Dick Clark said today of Allen: ”He had a magnificent mind. He was a kind, gentle, warm man. He would be embarrassed for me now, because I can’t put into words the way I felt about this man. I loved him.”

Last April in a speech to the National Press Club in Washington, Allen downplayed his most lasting achievement, as the originator of the ”Tonight Show,” in characteristically droll fashion. ”Hosting a talk show is the easiest job anybody ever had,” he said. ”I have an image that many years ago on a tree stump in a jungle there were some guys on a log to his right. I am sure they did not sit there silently. Primitive man must have had some form of language. Therefore, that was the first talk show.” For more about Allen visit his official website