Jimmy Savile, an oddball British TV presenter who became the ringmaster for the golden age of pop rock and who was knighted for his charity fundraising, has died at his home in northern England.
Police found his body Oct. 29 at his home in his native city of Leeds. Mr. Savile would have turned 85 on Oct. 31. No cause of death was disclosed, but he had recently been hospitalized with pneumonia, according to British media reports.
Given to wearing track suits and gold jewelry, Mr. Savile embodied the English eccentric, and he became an almost inescapable cultural presence in Britain. Impersonators mimicked his schtick, which included a platinum-blond mop of hair, a Havana cigar twiddled in his fingers and catchphrases such as “howsabout that then, guys and gals,” which was typically followed by a yodel.
Such attributes set Mr. Savile apart from more buttoned-down BBC personalities, even in the radical milieu of pop music in 1960s Britain. Mr. Savile was the debut host in 1964 of “Top of the Pops,” a weekly TV show that connected millions of young record-buying viewers with top bands and artists. With others, Mr. Savile hosted 300 episodes over the ensuing 20 years, introducing acts such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Chubby Checker.
But it was his second TV incarnation that endeared Mr. Savile to his countrymen. After “Top of the Pops,” he starred in “Jim’ll Fix It,” which began on the BBC in 1975 and ran until 1994. The show featured the requests of children, sometimes seriously ill, fulfilling their dreams of flying on the Concorde or playing for a top soccer team.
This program dovetailed with Mr. Savile’s own charity work. He is reputed to have raised more than $50 million for charities, mostly hospitals. A bachelor for life, he had rooms in the institutions he helped, including Broadmoor, a prison housing the criminally insane.
A onetime failed wrestler, he also took part in marathons and other sporting events to raise money. He completed the London Marathon when he was 78. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1990.
Mr. Savile experienced a childhood that could not have anticipated his fame. James Wilson Vincent Savile was born Oct. 31, 1926, into an impoverished Yorkshire family of seven children.
As a teenager during World War II, he worked in a coal mine and was injured in a blast. After the war, he turned his passion for popular music and records into gigs as a DJ. He also managed a chain of ballrooms, then all the rage in postwar England.
He was recruited to the BBC after a stint on Radio Luxembourg, a commercial station whose signal and heavy diet of pop music could be heard amid the otherwise highly guarded, government-licensed airwaves of England.
In interviews, Mr. Savile said the key to success in romance was to remain chaste. His closest companion was his mother, Agnes. He referred to her as “the Duchess,” and they would vacation together in windswept British seaside resorts.
When she died in 1973, he said he spent five days with her body, venerating her memory and their time together. “It’s wonderful, is death,” he said, recounting the vigil.