By Amy Ryan
Updated August 11, 2006 at 12:00 PM EDT

Mike Douglas (at left, with comedian Soupy Sales), who died Friday on his 81st birthday, may be all but forgotten today, but for two decades, he ruled the world of daytime celebrity chat. From 1961 to 1982, The Mike Douglas Show was a must-visit promotional stop for top politicians and celebrities, as well as a hothouse for new talent. Among those who made their TV debuts on the former big-band singer’s syndicated series: Barbra Streisand, Aretha Franklin, and Tiger Woods (who demonstrated his golf prowess opposite Bob Hope while he was still a tot). Even as pop culture was splintering into exclusive niches during those decades, the old-school Douglas appealed to everybody. (John Lennon and Yoko Ono famously served as guest hosts for a week in 1972.)

As a genial host who offered a friendly spotlight to let guests of all kinds shine, Douglas influenced numerous followers, from Merv Griffin to Dinah Shore to Rosie O’Donnell, who paid Douglas homage by inviting him to come out of retirement for a guest appearance on one of her first shows in 1996. Despite emerging once more in 2000 to publish a well-received memoir (called I’ll Be Right Back, naturally), Douglas was happy to spend his last years playing golf. Still, his influence lives on in the work of Jimmy Kimmel, Ellen DeGeneres, and even Isaac Mizrahi. As for Rosie, who’s about to return to daytime on The View, she’s probably glad Douglas chose to stay on the golf course all those years. As she told EW in 1996: ”If Mike came back, he’d be The King. And I’d be back working at Yuk Yuks.”

addCredit(“Mike Douglas Show: Everett Collection”)