Forty years ago today, Ed Sullivan, who hosted the show that bore his name for over two decades, passed away from esophageal cancer. Ed Sullivan, born a New Yorker in 1901, was for many years part of an elite circle of Broadway columnists who was read by insiders and outsiders alike. In this capacity he made connections with some of the top names in show business. Having already broadcasted on radio, this put Sullivan in a good position to move into the new medium of television. He developed his program, initially called Toast of the Town, with his producer Marlo Lewis and was originally modeled after the entertainment Sullivan would provide as emcee at events such as The Harvest Moon Ball. While widely regarded as not having any particular talent of his own, Sullivan was a natural at recognizing it when he saw it.
Initially, his show was a place for some of the top names in show business to have a national stage, as people from all across the country saw many entertainment spectacles previously only available in major cities such as New York. Average Americans got to see scenes and numbers from the most popular Broadway shows of the time, such The King and I, Camelot, and Hello Dolly. Eventually, The Ed Sullivan Show made stars of its own. As the fifties became the sixties, the show became increasingly associated with “rock and roll” music and helped turn burgeoning sensations like Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones, into genuine stars in North America overnight. He also played host to some of the top names in comedy over the years, including Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Alan King, Joan Rivers, and Flip Wilson. Sullivan, with his stiff mannerisms and unique pronunciations, became a must-have character for any comedian that performed impressions. Along with his contributions to entertainment, Sullivan will be remembered for his loving relationship with his wife Sylvia, the pride he had in his Irish heritage, and his unwavering patriotism. Rest in peace Ed.