LOS ANGELES — Film historian Robert Osborne, the effervescent primetime host of Turner Classic Movies since the cabler's inception in 1994, has died. He was 84.
TCM's general manager Jennifer Dorian released a statement saying, "All of us at Turner Classic Movies are deeply saddened by the death of Robert Osborne. Robert was a beloved member of the Turner family for more than 23 years. He joined us as an expert on classic film and grew to be our cherished colleague and esteemed ambassador for TCM. Robert was embraced by devoted fans who saw him as a trusted expert and friend. 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. Robert's contributions were fundamental in shaping TCM into what it is today and we owe him a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this time."
Osborne was an irrepressible advocate for the films of Hollywood's golden era who wrote the Motion Picture Academy-sanctioned "50 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards" in 1978 and a number of updates ending in 2008 with "80 Years of the Oscar."
Osborne lived in New York but shot his TCM appearances at the cable network's headquarters in Atlanta. As TCM's primary on-air personality, Osborne occupied something of an unique position in the history of television: Where once it was common for channels to provide hosts for the movies they programmed, TCM is now the last U.S. movie network to regularly feature hosts who offer information about a film before it begins.
Before the launch of TCM, Osborne hosted films on the Movie Channel from 1986-93.
Osborne started in showbiz as an actor under contract to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz's Desilu. He made a few guest appearances on TV series including "The Beverly Hillbillies" and appeared onstage in the Ball-produced "The Desilu Revue"; a national tour of the play "Generation" with Robert Cummings; and the first production of Paddy Chayefsky's "The Latent Heterosexual," directed by Burgess Meredith and starring Zero Mostel. Nevertheless, Ball, impressed by his college education, suggested that Osborne write a book. (She remained a friend until her death.) He responded with a short history of the Oscars, "Academy Awards Illustrated," leading to stints as an entertainment reporter for TV stations in Los Angeles and New York and then to a similar gig on "CBS Morning News" in the late '80s.
Osborne joined the staff of the Hollywood Reporter in 1977 and penned its "Rambling Reporter" column from 1982-2009; he wrote breezy, personality-oriented items and also reviewed films and Broadway plays.