Tom Snyder dies at 71 from leukemia complications

Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Talk show host Tom Snyder is seen in this March 1993 picture. Snyder, whose smoke-filled interviews were a staple of late night television, died Sunday, July 29, 2007 in San Francisco from complications associated with leukemia, said his longtime producer and friend Mike Horowicz. He was 71. (AP Photo)

SAN FRANCISCO -- Tom Snyder, who pioneered the late-late network TV talk show with a personal yet abrasive style, robust laugh and trademark cloud of cigarette smoke billowing around his head, has died from complications associated with leukemia. He was 71.

Snyder died Sunday in San Francisco, his longtime producer and friend Mike Horowicz told The Associated Press on Monday.

"Tom was a fighter," Horowicz said. "I know he had tried many different treatments."

Prickly and ego-driven, Snyder conducted numerous memorable interviews as host of NBC's "Tomorrow," which followed Johnny Carson's "Tonight" show from 1973 to '82.

Snyder's style, his show's set and the show itself marked an abrupt change at 1 a.m. from Carson's program. Snyder might joke with the crew in the sparsely appointed studio, but he was more likely to joust with guests such as the irascible science fiction writer Harlan Ellison.

Snyder had John Lennon's final televised interview (April 1975) and U2's first U.S. television appearance in June 1981.

One of his most riveting interviews was with Charles Manson, who would go from a calm demeanor to acting like a wild-eyed, insanity-spouting mass murderer and back again.

In 1982, the show was canceled after a messy attempt to reformat it into a talk-variety show called "Tomorrow Coast to Coast." It added a live audience and co-hostess Rona Barrett -- all of which Snyder disdained.

The time slot was taken over by a hot young comedian named David Letterman.

"Tom was the very thing that all broadcasters long to be -- compelling," Letterman said. "Whether he was interviewing politicians, authors, actors or musicians, Tom was always the real reason to watch. I'm honored to have known him as a colleague and a friend."

Born in Milwaukee, Snyder began his career as a radio reporter in his home town in the 1960s, then moved into local television news, anchoring newscasts in Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles before moving to late night.

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