Iconic Broadcaster Sir Terry Wogan Dies at 79

Photo: Dan Kitwood/2009 Getty Images

Sir Terry Wogan was a broadcasting institution and cultural iconoclast. He hosted a multitude of television and radio programs, including the quiz show Blankety Blank, as well as the charity program Children in Need, which was first broadcast in 1980, and which he continued to host after his retirement from regular broadcasting. With that singular Irish Blarney and an irreverent whimsy, he helped make the Eurovision Song Contest, for which he provided acerbic commentary for the BBC from 1971 to 2008, relevant again, long after Brits ceased to take the program seriously. "Who knows what hellish future lies ahead?" he mused at the beginning of the 2007 contest. "Actually, I do. I've seen the rehearsals."

Wogan, who died of cancer at 79 on Sunday, was an ubiquitous presence in England and Ireland. He had a brilliant ability to coax celebrities into saying things that adorned morning headlines, and would deliver lacerating quips on the fly; in 1991, when famed soccer played and conspiracy theorist David Icke claimed to be the "Son of God" and opined that natural disasters are caused by negative emotions, drawing laughter from the audience, Wogan calmly said, “They're not laughing with you, they're laughing at you.”

Despite his immediately recognizable face and voice, Wogan tried to live out of the public eye, and was free from scandal himself. He was married to Helen Joyce from 1965 until his death and frequently donoated vast sums of money to charities. He had four children (one of whom died as an infant) and five grandchildren. At the apex of his broadcasting career, he was pulling down £800,000 a year. "If you do the maths, factoring in my 8 million listeners, I cost the BBC about 2p a fortnight,” he said. “I think I'm cheap at the price.”