Gay Byrne: Veteran Irish broadcaster dies aged 85

Gay Byrne

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Renowned Irish broadcaster Gay Byrne has died at the age of 85.

A broadcasting giant in the Republic of Ireland, he hosted the Late Late Show for more than 30 years on the country’s national broadcaster RTÉ.

Major figures from entertainment and politics paid tribute to him after his death on Monday after a long illness.

Irish President Michael D Higgins said Byrne was a “man of great charisma”, had compassion in abundance and a “sense of what was just”.

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RTÉ’s director general Dee Forbes described him as an exceptional broadcaster with a “unique and groundbreaking style”.

“He not only defined generations but he deftly arbitrated the growth and development of a nation,” she said.

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Byrne’s wife Kathleen Watkins – pictured with him in 2015 – said he died surrounded by his family

“Ireland grew up under Gay Byrne and we will never see his like again.”

His wife Kathleen and their daughters Crona and Suzy said he died at home surrounded by his family.

“We wish to thank everybody for their love and support during Gay’s illness, particularly the wonderful teams in the Mater Hospital, St Francis Hospice and the Irish Cancer Society,” they said.

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Gay Byrne interviewed Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams on the Late Late Show in 1994

Obituary: Gay Byrne

Gay Byrne, or Gaybo as he was almost universally known, was the leading Irish broadcaster of his era.

As anchor of the Late Late Show, he steered the audience through the highs and lows of Irish life.

From Ballybunion to Buncrana, he was a familiar and controversial face on Irish screens every Friday night, presiding over the shifting moods of the country.

Read more: The leading Irish broadcaster of his era

Byrne hosted the Late Late Show in a relaxed but intelligent manner.

The show embraced discussion on divorce, abortion and sexuality.

It made headlines with highlights such as a 1993 interview with Annie Murphy, who had a child with the Bishop of Galway Eamon Casey.

In 1992, the then Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Brooke fell foul of the show when he was coaxed into singing Oh My Darling Clementine on a day when seven Protestant workmen were killed in an IRA bomb.

‘Shone light on Irish life’

Byrne also fronted a long-running radio show that was first known as the Gay Byrne Hour and later the Gay Byrne Show.

He also presented the Rose of Tralee pagent, the Housewife of the Year competition and as a range of special programmes.

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Singer Sinead O’Connor appeared on Byrne’s final Late Late Show in 1999

He presented his final daily radio show in 1998 and his final Late Late Show the following summer.

President Higgins said Mr Byrne’s work “shone a light not only on the bright but also the dark sides of Irish life”.

“[He helped] shape our conscience, our self-image and our idea of who we might be.”

Comedian and presenter Dara Ó Briain tweeted that Byrne had lived an “enormous life”.

The Irish former Manchester United and Aston Villa footballer Paul McGrath, who was interviewed by Byrne, said the presenter had been “so kind to me”.

Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar said Byrne “changed Ireland for the better”.

In spite of his considerable success, Byrne faced financial problems after his pension was wiped out during the Irish recession.

A dispute between a financial fund and his family partnership was settled in court last year.

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