Robert Osborne, a film historian and journalist who became known to millions as the genial and erudite host on Turner Classic Movies, died Monday. He was 84.
“Robert was embraced by devoted fans who saw him as a trusted expert and friend,” TCM general manager Jennifer Dorian said in a statement. “His calming presence, gentlemanly style, encyclopedic knowledge of film history, fervent support for film preservation, and highly personal interviewing style all combined to make him a truly world-class host.”
Theater director and producer David Staller, Osborne’s partner of 20 years, told The Los Angeles Times that he died of natural causes in his sleep at home in New York City. Since 2011 Osborne had curtailed his appearances on the vintage cable channel due to faltering health.
With his natty attire and silver hair, Osborne had been a distinguished presence at Turner Classic Movies since the channel’s launch in 1994. At that time he was also being courted to fill the daytime hosting slot on American Movie Classics, but on the advice of actress Debbie Reynolds he took the TCM job instead. Before and after each film Osborne would regale viewers with behind-the-scenes stories and tidbits about many of the stars he interviewed during his long career, which included a stint with The Hollywood Reporter from 1977 to 2009.
Osborne, who was born on May 3, 1932, in Colfax, Washington, graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, though he began his career as an actor and was mentored by Lucille Ball as part of her studio’s Desilu Workshop. It was Ball who suggested that Osborne forgo acting and instead apply his knowledge of motion pictures as a writer. He followed her advice and wrote his first book, “Academy Awards Illustrated,” which was published in 1965. He followed up that book with the more comprehensive “50 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards” in 1978, which he updated every five years through 2013.
He was highly respected by celebrities and became close friends with Lana Turner, Lauren Bacall, Olivia de Havilland and Bette Davis, among many. When Osborne joined CBS’ “The Morning Program” in 1987, Davis offered to be his first guest. He also served as the official greeter on the Oscars’ red carpet from 2006 to 2010.
In addition to introducing films, Osborne also hosted the recurring series “Private Screenings,” in which he interviewed stars of Hollywood’s golden age including Robert Mitchum, Esther Williams and Betty Hutton.