American television personality, radio personality, musician, composer, actor, comedian, writer, and advocate of scientific skepticism.
In September 1954, he achieved national fame as the first host of The Tonight Show, which was the first late night television talk show.
Though he got his start in radio, Allen is best known for his extensive network television career. He gained national attention as a guest host on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. After he hosted The Tonight Show, he went on to host numerous game and variety shows, including his own The Steve Allen Show, I've Got a Secret, and The New Steve Allen Show. He was a regular panel member on CBS's What's My Line?, and from 1977 until 1981 wrote, produced, and hosted the award-winning public broadcasting show Meeting of Minds, a series of historical dramas presented in a talk format.
Allen was a pianist and a prolific composer. By his own estimate, he wrote more than 8,500 songs, some of which were recorded by numerous leading singers. Working as a lyricist, Allen won the 1964 Grammy Award for Best Original Jazz Composition.
He also wrote more than 50 books, including novels, children's books, and books of opinions, including his final book, Vulgarians at the Gate: Trash TV and Raunch Radio (2001).
In 1996 Allen was presented with the Martin Gardner Lifetime Achievement Award from the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSICOP). He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a Hollywood theater named in his honor.
Born in New York City, son of Billy (Carroll Abler) and Isabelle Allen (née Donohue), a husband and wife vaudeville comedy team. He was raised on the South Side of Chicago largely by his mother's Irish Catholic family. Milton Berle called Allen's mother "the funniest woman in vaudeville".
Allen's first radio job was on station KOY in Phoenix, Arizona, after he left Arizona State Teachers College (now Arizona State University) in Tempe while still a sophomore. He enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II and was trained as an infantryman. He did not serve overseas, instead spending his service time at Camp Roberts, California. He returned to Phoenix before deciding to move back to California.
Allen and Dorothy Goodman married in 1943 and had three children: Steve Jr., Brian, and David. That marriage ended in divorce in 1952.
Allen's second wife was actress Jayne Meadows, sister of actress Audrey Meadows. That union produced one son, Bill Allen, named for Steve's father. They were married in Waterford, Connecticut, on July 31, 1954, and remained married until his death in 2000. He was a Democrat; his wife was a Republican. In the later 1950s, author and philosopher Gerald Heard worked with psychiatrist Sidney Cohen to introduce intelligent, adventurous people to LSD, and Steve Allen was one of these.
Although Allen had received a traditional Roman Catholic upbringing, he later became a secular humanist and Humanist Laureate for the Academy of Humanism, a member of CSICOP and the Council for Secular Humanism. He received the Rose Elizabeth Bird Commitment to Justice Award from Death Penalty Focus in 1998. He was a student and supporter of general semantics, recommending it in Dumbth and giving the Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture in 1992. In spite of his liberal position on free speech, his later concerns about the lewdness he saw on radio and television, particularly the programs of Howard Stern, caused him to make proposals restricting the content of programs, allying himself with the Parents Television Council. His full-page ad on the subject appeared in newspapers just before his unexpected death.
Allen made a last appearance on The Tonight Show on September 27, 1994, for the show's 40th anniversary broadcast. Jay Leno was effusive in praise and actually knelt and kissed Allen's ring.
Steve died on October 30, 2000, at the age of 78. At first, it was suspected he had suffered a fatal heart attack while napping at his son's Los Angeles area home. However, a Los Angeles Coroner's spokesperson later said autopsy results showed the real cause of death was a ruptured blood vessel caused by chest injuries he did not realize he had sustained in a minor traffic accident earlier in the day. According to Jayne Meadows, "Typical of Steve, [who] was the dearest, sweetest man: He was hit by a man, backing into him, breaking all of his ribs, that pierced his heart ... and when he got out of the car, he said to the man, 'What some people will do to get my autograph'."
He is buried at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles. He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – a television star at 1720 Vine Street and a radio star at 1537 Vine Street. There is also a theatre in Hollywood named after him.
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