John McLaughlin, a broadcaster, political pundit, and former Jesuit priest best known for serving as the ringleader of the long-running political chat show/shouting match The McLaughlin Group, has died. McLaughlin, who missed his first taping of the show in 34 years on Sunday due to illness, was 89.
Brought up Catholic in Rhode Island, McLaughlin entered the seminary after college, and became ordained as a Jesuit priest in 1959. In subsequent years, he alternated between furthering his education—getting a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Columbia, thus his usual formal title, Dr. McLaughlin—and teaching high school. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, as the Vietnam War raged, McLaughlin’s interests veered toward conservative politics. He defied his Jesuit superiors in 1970 with a failed bid for a seat in the U.S. Senate, before joining his friend—and long-time panel collaborator—Pat Buchanan as a speechwriter for Richard Nixon.
In 1982, McLaughlin launched The McLaughlin Group, a syndicated attempt to take the often-staid Sunday political chat show format and make something a little more exciting out of it. Although most of the show’s nearly 2,000 episodes—which aired weekly, usually on PBS—started out calmly enough, with McLaughlin firing questions at his panelists and friends in his clipped New England tone, discussions often escalated into arguments and shouting matches between the four guests. Presiding over it all was McLaughlin, whose idiosyncratic turns of phrase and willingness to cut his panelists off at a moment’s notice all contributed to the show’s air of controlled chaos, and drew the mocking eye of comedians everywhere. Most notably, Saturday Night Live’s Dana Carvey deployed his McLaughlin impression on numerous occasions, mimicing his signature sign-off—a distinctively drawn-out “Bye-bye!”—and even interacting with the man himself for a Halloween-themed installment.
Beyond The McLaughlin Group, McLaughlin also hosted a weekly interview show, John McLaughlin’s One On One, between 1984 and 2013, a CNBC nightly news show, McLaughlin, in the early ’90s, and a short-lived MSNBC show that aired in 1999. Through it all, he displayed a well-honed irascibility and showmanship, and a willingness to break with Republican orthodoxy on a number of issues. (Notably, in 2004, he threw his support behind Democrat John Kerry in his bid to defeat the incumbent George W. Bush.) He also occasionally deployed a softer side, as when he named Pope Francis his person of the year in 2014 , at least in part because the pontiff had announced that animals—like McLaughlin’s beloved basset hound Oliver, after whom his production company was named—could go to heaven.
McLaughlin’s death was announced today via The McLaughlin Group’s Facebook page.