Art Linkletter, host of two of the longest-running variety shows in television history and the man who got kids to say “the darnedest things,” has died at the age of 97. Linkletter first came to prominence on CBS radio in 1944, where Linkletter would talk to ordinary people and get them to share amusing anecdotes about themselves; he later collected stories from its best-known segment, “Kids Say The Darnedest Things,” into a bestselling book. (CBS revived Kids Say The Darnedest Things in 1998, with Bill Cosby taking over for Linkletter.) House Party ran on CBS television from 1952 to 1969, while Linkletter could be seen concurrently hosting People Are Funny over at NBC from 1954 to 1961. The audience-participation comedy—which some point to as one of television’s first reality shows—had Linkletter once again mining regular people for laughs, this time by asking them to engage in wacky stunts and filming their reactions.
Linkletter also wrote more than two-dozen books in his lifetime, including several about his own family. He also became a well-known anti-drug spokesman in the 1970s (and created one of the most lasting drug-related urban legends around) after his daughter, Diane, committed suicide by jumping out of a window, which Linkletter very publicly blamed on her use of LSD, despite an autopsy finding no drugs in her system. In addition to his many roles on television, Linkletter was also a shrewd financier, being one of the first to invest in the hula-hoop and agreeing to help present opening day at Disneyland for his good friend Walt Disney in exchange for being allowed to sell film and cameras at the park. Of the hosts that day—which also included Ronald Reagan and Bob Cummings—Linkletter was the only one to return for the park’s 50th anniversary party in 2005. As he told the San Diego Union-Tribune at the time, “I'm the guy at Disneyland who was there, who opened it, started it, got it going. And I'm the only one left."