Tuesday, September 8, 2009

RIP Mike Bongiorno

TV host who popularized quiz shows in Italy dies

ROME — Mike Bongiorno, a TV host who popularized quiz shows for generations of Italians and became a symbol of national television, has died. He was 85.

Bongiorno died of a heart attack at his home in Monte Carlo, the ANSA news agency and satellite TV station Sky Italia said.

Nicknamed “The Quiz King,” Bongiorno was one of Italy’s most enduring and beloved TV personalities. His gaffes were legendary and his greeting to viewers — “Allegria!” or “Cheers!” — a trademark.

He was so popular that Umberto Eco wrote an essay called the “Phenomenology of Mike Bongiorno,” using the host as a symbol of popular culture.

The reaction to his death showed that his popularity, aided by a career that spanned five decades, had transcended the small screen: politicians, intellectuals and even the soccer team he rooted for sent condolences. Vatican Radio called him a “milestone” of Italian TV, and President Giorgio Napolitano said Bongiorno was a “household presence” for Italian families.

He appeared on RAI state TV on its first day of programming in the early 1950s and went on to host a series of successful quiz shows — many of them adaptations of U.S. shows — for over two decades. Millions of Italians watched as he asked sometimes impossible questions of his contestants.

He was among the first and, at that point, most prominent personalities to move to private TV, contributing to the success of the TV company owned by Silvio Berlusconi, the current Italian premier, in the early 1980s.

“He was a great friend. A great protagonist of Italian TV leaves us,” Berlusconi said.

Fellow veteran TV host Maurizio Costanzo called Bongiorno “the essence of Italian TV.”

Born in New York, Bongiorno moved to his mother’s hometown of Turin, Italy, as a young boy. During World War II he took part in the Italian resistance and was briefly incarcerated. ANSA said he was captured by the Gestapo and then deported to a German concentration camp before being freed thanks to a prisoner-of-war exchange.

Bongiorno was the host of countless shows, appeared as himself in a handful of Italian movies, received an honorary degree in Milan and wrote an autobiography called “La Mia Versione” (”My Version”).

He recently left Berlusconi’s company and was working on a remake of his popular Rischiatutto show for Sky Italia.

Bongiorno is survived by his wife, Daniela Zuccoli, and three children.

Information on funeral arrangements was not immediately available. The family’s Filmike Enterprises company refused comment.

BONGIORNO, Michael Nicholas Salvatore
Born: 5/26/1924, New York City, New York, U.S.A.
Died: 9/8/2009, Monte Carlo, Monaco

Mike Bongiorno's western - actor
They Call Me Providence – 1972 (Mike Goodmorning)

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