Dave Garroway, 69, who, as the first host of NBC's "Today" show, set standards for the then-fledgling television industry that it has seldom matched in the ensuing 30 years, was found dead yesterday in his Swarthmore, Pa., home.
Police said he had apparently committed suicide by shooting himself in the head with a shotgun. He was found at 9:30 a.m. in a hallway of his one-story ranch home by a maintenance man, according to the Delaware County coroner's office.
Mr. Garroway's wife, Sarah Lippincott, an astronomy professor at Swarthmore College, had breakfasted with her husband and then left on an errand. She was not present when the shooting occurred.
Family and friends said that Mr. Garroway had suffered from heart problems for some years, and had recently undergone open-heart surgery.
He first appeared on NBC in 1949 as host of "Garroway at Large," a television talk show produced at WMAQ, the network-owned station in Chicago, at a time when much of the nation was not yet wired for the new medium.
Three years later, innovative NBC president Sylvester (Pat) Weaver spotted the program's potential, moved it to New York and called it "Today."
By 1954, the network had expanded to cover most of the country and Mr. Garroway, as the low-pressure, high-IQ host of "Today," had captured the fancy of the new national audience with his two-hour, five-day-a-week morning romp. In the process, he set standards for taste and easy humor for the totally new "talk-show" genre that many believe have never since been equaled.
The program was a mix of interviews and commentary--made more palatable by the viewers' knowledge that Mr. Garroway had often read the books he talked about without making too much of it--and of comedy skits that also featured the host. In the early years of the show, he had the help of Betsy Palmer, Jack Lescoulie, Frank Blair and--perhaps most memorable--J. Fred Muggs, the mischievous chimp.
He was noted for the bow ties he habitually wore and the horn-rimmed glasses that gave him a professorial look, but most of all for his sign-off gesture. At the end of each broadcast he would put his palm forward and wish viewers "Peace," a signature that in those simpler times viewers could pretty much interpret as they wanted.
Off the air, he was a sports car enthusiast and had a hand in the design of premier race-car circuits at Watkins Glen, N.Y., and Elkhart Lake, Wis. He also had an abiding interest in astronomy.
In addition to his "Today" chores during the 1950s on NBC, he also served as host of "The Dave Garroway Show" (1953-54) and as host of the ambitious Sunday program, "Wide Wide World" (1955-58), which featured remote, live telecasts from out-of-the-way spots such as Aspen, Colo., at a time when the capabilities of TV technology often fell far short of TV executives' imaginations.
But in 1961, Mr. Garroway's second wife, Pamela Wilde, whom he had married in 1956, took her life with an overdose of sleeping pills, a personal tragedy that deeply affected him. By the same year, NBC had shifted control of "Today" from the entertainment-oriented program department to NBC News, and he was replaced on the morning show by John Chancellor. Mr. Garroway resigned from NBC shortly thereafter.
He subsequently hosted "Exploring the Universe" for public television, worked briefly for CBS and, in 1969, conducted a syndicated talk show from Boston called "Tempo." He had not been in the public eye in recent years.
Frank Blair, who broadcast the news for many years on "Today," said yesterday that Mr. Garroway was "very, very disappointed that his career kind of came to a halt. He remarked to me once, 'Nobody wants me anymore. I'm old shoe, old hat. Nobody cares for old Dave any more.' "
Barbara Walters, who now works for ABC, recalled that Mr. Garroway had hired her as a writer on "Today."
"More than anything else I remember his ability to communicate with an audience," she said from her home in suburban New York. "I don't think there is anyone else in our business who could do it the way Dave Garroway did."
Mr. Garroway was born in Schenectady, N.Y., the son of a mechanical engineer who took the family to 13 cities before finally settling in St. Louis.
He worked as a laboratory assistant at Harvard University, then flopped as a piston ring salesman. Later, he broke in as a $16-a-week NBC page boy and enrolled in the network's announcer training school. In his first examination he finished 23rd in a class of 24.
Shortly afterward, he landed a job as special-events director at Pittsburgh's KDKA, and from there moved to WMAQ in Chicago, where his career took off.
In addition to his wife, survivors include two sons, Michael and David, both of his second marriage, and a daughter, Paris, by his first marriage. That marriage, to Adele Dwyer, a college sweetheart, ended in divorce in 1945.
Late yesterday, NBC announced that longtime compatriots Lescoulie and Blair will pay tribute to Garroway on this morning's "Today" program.