LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Veteran talk show host Tom Snyder, whose idiosyncratic interviewing style bemused and annoyed late-night TV viewers during three decades, has died after a long battle with leukemia, associates said on Monday. He was 71.
The former host of NBC's "Tomorrow" show and CBS' "The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder" died on Sunday evening at his home in San Francisco, said his longtime agent and lawyer Ed Hookstratten.
"Tom was a true broadcaster, a rare thing," said Peter Lassally, executive producer of Snyder's CBS show, in a statement released by the network. "When he was on the air, he made the camera disappear. It was just you and him, in a room together, having a talk."
Comedian David Letterman, who took over Snyder's time slot when Snyder left NBC and later hired Snyder to follow his own show after moving to CBS, said: "Tom was the very thing that all broadcasters long to be -- compelling."
Snyder gained national fame for hosting "Tomorrow" in NBC's post-"Tonight Show" spot from 1973 to 1982, with some of his more memorable guests including former Beatle John Lennon, Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols and convicted killer Charles Manson.
But a quirky on-air presence -- including frequent digressions about his personal life and the habit of laughing gustily at his own jokes shared with an unseen crew -- made him as much the center of attention as his interview subjects.
Seated cigarette in hand on a simple, darkened set adorned with just two chairs, he was alternately pompous and self-deprecating. His style transfixed some viewers, irritated others and was famously captured by comedian Dan Aykroyd's impersonation of Snyder on NBC's "Saturday Night Live."
According to the Web site IMDB.com, Snyder conceded that one of the most embarrassing moments of his career came when he realized 10 minutes into an interview with rock singer Meat Loaf that he had been calling him "Meatball."
At the height of his run, Snyder reportedly was considered a possible future anchor of the NBC Nightly News or a likely successor to Johnny Carson to host "The Tonight Show." But a reformatting of "Tomorrow" in the early 1980s failed to catch on and the program was canceled in 1982.
Snyder's time slot ended up going to Letterman.
After several years back on his original medium, radio, Snyder returned to national television in 1983 with an interview show on cable TV's CNBC, adopting the catch phrase: "Fire up a colortini, sit back, relax and watch the pictures, now, as they fly through the air."
Two years later, he landed on broadcast television again to host "The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder" on CBS, in the time slot following Letterman's "Late Show" until 1999.
Snyder announced on his Web site about two years ago that he had been diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia but said his doctors had assured him his condition was treatable and "nothing to worry about." Snyder had quit smoking about five years previously.
Snyder was born in Milwaukee and began his broadcasting career as a local radio reporter before moving into television and anchoring local newscasts in Philadelphia.
Additional reporting by Belinda Goldsmith