Showbiz legend Don Lane has died, aged 75.
His manager Jayne Ambrose said Lane passed away this morning.
He had been living in a nursing home in Melbourne and was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Along with Graham Kennedy and Bert Newton, he will be remembered as part of a trio of legendary TV stars from the 1970s and 80s who ruled the airways when variety shows drew millions of viewers each week.
Lane arrived in Australia in the mid ’60s after being spotted working in Hawaii by Channel Nine producer John Collins. He hosted shows including as The Tonight Show, Tonight with Don Lane and Sydney Tonight, which included his appearance in the now-famous coaxial split with Graham Kennedy in Melbourne.
But it was his 1975 run at GTV9 in Melbourne on The Don Lane Show for which he is best remembered. His live “Tonight” show ran for close to two hours, two nights a week with Lane moving between opening monologue, interviews, and musical numbers. It attracted A-List stars with regular appearances by Sammy Davis Jr., Debbie Reynolds, Robin Williams, Billy Connelly, Dame Edna, Tony Curtis, Peter Sellers, Phyllis Diller, Liza Minnelli, ABBA, The Village People and a cavalcade of Hollywood names.
But it was Don and Bert, that viewers loved most. The rapport between the two performers was television magic. Newton’s “wheel” segment would frequently extend beyond the realms of live television scheduling delivering hilarious, spontaneous comedy. Lane was the perfect straight man to Newton, for a show that ran until 1983.
Lane’s on-air attack on James Randi, who had criticised Lane-show favourite psychic Doris Stokes, remains one of television’s greatest stoushes.
Known affectionately to all as the “Lanky Yank” during this glory period, he was also a daily guest on Bert Newton’s radio show in Melbourne on 3UZ.
After the end of The Don Lane Show he moved back to the United States for two years, before hosting You’ve Got to Be Joking, Late Night Australia and 1987’s Logie Awards. In 2003 he was inducted into the Logies Hall of Fame.
An avid basketball fan, he also commentated NCAA basketball for the ABC and NBL on Foxtel.
He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2005 and moved into a care facility in 2008.
Bert Newton today paid tribute to his colleague.
“Don was a very important influence in my life – both as an entertainer and a friend. He was the most generous performer I have ever worked with, always happy to share the camera and the comedy.
“Before Don and I worked together on The Don Lane Show, we had actually never met. Our friendship began on camera and lasted for more than 30 years. Australian television and, in particular, variety television, owe so much to Don. He gave it new life and his show became one of the most prestigious and important programs in history.
“My memories today are of an outstanding performer and a friend I loved very much.”
Nine CEO David Gyngell said, “Today Australia lost one of its finest all-round entertainers. Don Lane was a stalwart of the industry and a great mate to so many of us here at Nine.
“While Don may have passed, the memories and the laughs he provided will remain with us for many years to come.
“Our deepest condolences are conveyed to Jayne Ambrose, PJ and Don’s extended family.”
A funeral will be held on Friday with a public memorial to be announced.
….we love your faces.
Nine has announced A Tribute to Don Lane to air at 8:30pm tonight in place of CSI.
This post updates.