By Tyler Aquilina
July 02, 2020 at 03:20 PM EDT
NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

Broadcasting legend Hugh Downs, known for his lengthy tenure as co-host of ABC's 20/20 and NBC's Today, died July 1 at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 99.

Born in Akron, Ohio in 1921, Downs got his start in radio, and his television career stretched back to virtually the beginnings of the medium. His early work included announcer gigs on the children's puppet show Kukla, Fran and Ollie and Caesar's Hour with Sid Caesar, and he gained greater prominence as Jack Paar's announcer-sidekick during Paar's tenure on The Tonight Show. Downs briefly took over hosting duties in 1960 when Paar walked off of the show to protest NBC's censorship of a joke.

Downs went on to host the Today show from 1962 to 1971, where he solidified his profile as a TV journalist, and met his future 20/20 co-host Barbara Walters. Downs was hired to take over the ABC newsmagazine show in 1978, after its disastrous debut, with Walters joining a year later and becoming Downs' co-host in 1984. Downs remained at the 20/20 desk until his retirement in 1999.

Downs frequently said he thought viewers perceived him as bland, but he remained a well-known television staple throughout his career. He held the world record for most time on the air on network commercial TV for many years, with more than 15,000 hours, until Regis Philbin surpassed him in 2004.

Downs' wife, Ruth Shaheen, died in 2017. He is survived by their children, two grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

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