Tom Magliozzi, who hosted the long-running public radio show “Car Talk” with his brother Ray, has died, NPR announced Monday. Magliozzi — the older half of “Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers” — was 77.
That humor is characteristic of the popular, Peabody Award-winning show, which first aired 37 years ago. During the hour-long weekly program, the brothers helped callers with their car problems.
But that was just the show’s framing, not its heart. Ray and Tom’s fans came back, week after week, for the brothers’ banter, what “Car Talk’s” statement called a “uniquely Boston-Italian style of expressing affection through friendly insults and teasing.”
The show was full of personalities: the callers, the brothers, and the cars – often clunkers – themselves.
In a Washington Post profile of the brothers in 1999, Frank Ahrens described what it was like to interview the Magliozzi brothers:
You want to know what makes their public radio show so popular, how they got from air hoses to airwaves. Instead you get shtick. Which pretty much answers your question. On the phone — as on their one-hour Saturday show — the brothers crack wise in their Hah-vahd Yahd beaneater accents, busting chops and giggling hardest at their own jokes.
The brothers once again spoke to The Post in 2005.
During that interview, Tom told Mark Leibovich that “George Bush is a [unprintable vulgarity],” a statement NPR and the brothers repeatedly, and often hilariously, attempted to walk back, as the Magliozzis were in Washington to lobby for government support for public radio.
In 2012, the Magliozzi brothers announced that they would retire, in a statement they headlined “Time to Get Even Lazier.” In that farewell announcement, Ray wrote, “my brother turning over the birthday odometer to 75, we’ve finally decided that it’s time to stop and smell the cappuccino.”
After the siblings’ retirement, NPR continued to air classic segments from the brothers’ long run.
The fact that it remained a top-rated program in syndication speaks to the staying power of “Car Talk.” So do the reactions to the news from Tom Magliozzi’s co-workers and fans:
Called my dad at work to let him know about Tom Magliozzi, Some of my favorite memories with my dad involve Click and Clack.— Elizabeth DiRusso (@3liz4b3th) November 3, 2014
Here is the statement posted on the Web site for “Car Talk” by Ray Magliozzi:
“Tom was the first in his family to attend college, enrolling at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned a degree in Chemical Engineering,” the “Car Talk” statement said. “He applied that degree to research and consulting jobs until, in his late 20s, he was making his tedious 45-minute commute in traffic one morning, had a near miss with another car, and had a revelation that he was wasting his life. Upon arriving at work, he walked into his boss’ office and quit on the spot. He hated putting on a suit and working in the 9-to-5 world.”
The statement added:
“He’d always ask guys who were in a dispute with their wives or girlfriends one question: ‘Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?’” said Ray. “In his own personal life, Tom always chose ‘right,’ hence he leaves behind two wives, and a passel of children and grandchildren.” He is survived by his first wife Julia; second wife, Joanne; his children, Lydia Icke, Alex and Anna Magliozzi; five grandchildren; and his close companion of recent years, Sylvia Soderberg.
The “Car Talk” statement said that the Magliozzi family would prefer Tom’s fans donate to either a local NPR station or to the Alzheimer’s Association — “in lieu flowers, or rotten fruit.”
[This post has been updated.]