Bold, Idiosyncratic Talk Show Host Tom Snyder, 71

By Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Tom Snyder, 71, the influential TV talk show host who added meaning to America's post-midnight hours with probing interviews that illuminated the lives of public figures and made him a public figure as well, died July 29 in a San Francisco suburb.

Mr. Snyder had reported two years ago that he had chronic lymphocytic leukemia, but called it "nothing to worry about" and said he had been told that it was treatable.

With a quirky curiosity and a fearless interview style, Mr. Snyder enlivened the hours of insomniacs and delayed the bedtimes of millions of others with long-running late night talk shows that revealed the personalities of the famous and also displayed Mr. Snyder's whims, habits and idiosyncrasies.

From 1973 to 1982, he hosted a show that aired so late it was called "Tomorrow." It followed Johnny Carson's "Tonight" show on NBC.

Millions of Americans stayed awake well into the morning to watch as Mr. Snyder, cigarette smoke curling about his face, grilled his guests, sparred with them verbally and uttered personal declarations.

The years of "Tomorrow" marked an eventful period in America, and the list of those who jousted with Snyder included a who's who of headline-makers: actor Marlon Brando, labor leader Jimmy Hoffa, Watergate figure Jeb Stuart Magruder, philosopher Ayn Rand, convicted mass murderer Charles Manson, punk rocker Johnny Rotten and the musical group U2. (He apologized in mid-show for calling Meat Loaf "Meatball.")

It was all done by Mr. Snyder in a manner that seemed to combine boldness and bemusement, confidence and touchiness, sympathy and irascible abrasiveness. As those who reported on him wrote, he entertained and he infuriated, and from beneath his dark, beetling eyebrows, he managed to mesmerize.

From 1995 to 1999, Mr. Snyder resumed his role as a late-night host on a major networks. He appeared on CBS on a show that followed David Letterman's, appropriately called "The Late Late Show." It brought back the manic energy, the wild laughter, the torrential flow of words and the hair that grew over Mr. Snyder's ears.

That trademark hairstyle, he said, was because "I have very large ears and I don't like for them to show."

His appearance and his manner helped make him a widely recognizable public figure, one who was admired, imitated and satirized, most notably by Dan Aykroyd on early "Saturday Night Live" episodes.

He was at odds at times with executives, explaining to Tom Shales in The Washington Post that he knew where his appeal lay.

"I'm a pretty simple guy who just comes on and does fairly straightforward slice-of-life conversations with people about me and about them and about those folks who are watching." Anything else, he said, was " not going to work."

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