He may be best known for hosting 20/20 for years with Barbara Walters, but Hugh Downs had a long career in TV broadcasting beyond that. The iconic figure has died at age 99 at his Arizona home, reports azfamily.com. A spokesperson for the family made a point to note that he did not have COVID-19. Downs co-anchored 20/20 on ABC from 1978 to 1999, but prior to that Downs had been a host of the Today show on NBC, host of the game show Concentration, and even a sidekick to Jack Paar on NBC's The Tonight Show, per the Washington Post. He was to Paar what Ed McMahon would be to Johnny Carson. He titled his 1986 memoir On Camera: My 10,000 Hours on Television, and the New York Times notes that Downs held the Guinness record for most hours on network TV until Regis Philbin finally passed him.
Downs “represented the entire history of broadcasting,” Ron Simon, curator for television and radio at the Paley Center for Media in New York, tells the Post. “Whatever the format, he was that consummate, quintessential broadcaster who could adapt his style to what was needed.” Downs began his career as a radio announcer, though as he recounts in his memoir, he wasn't exactly a natural. “At the end of a piece of music, when I was supposed to say something, my knees would shake uncontrollably," he wrote. "My pulse and respiration went up. Fortunately, the fear never showed in my delivery, but it did in my hands. If I had to hold copy, the paper would rattle. As a defense, I learned to lay copy out flat on the desk, or, if standing, to grab my lapels along with the copy, so the paper didn’t move with my hands.” Those nerves stayed with him for years, he wrote. (Read more obituary stories.)