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Veteran Irish broadcaster Gay Byrne, 85, dies after long illness

Irish broadcaster Gay Byrne presented the Late Late Show for 37 years. Credit: PA

Much loved Irish broadcaster Gay Byrne has died at the age of 85 after a long illness.

The RTE broadcaster and former Late Late Show host had been undergoing treatment for cancer.

The father of two died in Howth surrounded by his family.

RTE director-general Dee Forbes paid tribute to Mr Byrne, describing him as an "exceptional broadcaster".

Born in Dublin in August 1934, Mr Byrne started work as a newsreader and continuity announcer on Radio Eireann in the late 1950s before moving to Granada Television in Manchester, where he worked on a variety of shows, interviewing acts including The Beatles.

He was granted the Freedom of the City of Dublin in 1999. Credit: PA

For a time he commuted between Dublin and UK, working for both the BBC and RTE, but came back to Ireland full-time in the late 1960s as presenter and producer of The Late Late Show.

The programme went on to become the world’s longest-running chat show.

Ms Forbes said: “We are all greatly saddened by the passing of Gay Byrne who has been a household name in this country for so many years,” she said.

“Gay was an exceptional broadcaster whose unique and ground-breaking style contributed so much to the development of radio and television in this country.

Chat show king Gay Byrne on the set of the Irish version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Credit: PA

“Gay’s journalistic legacy is as colossal as the man himself – he not only defined generations, but he deftly arbitrated the growth and development of a nation.

“Ireland grew up under Gay Byrne and we will never see his like again. My deepest sympathies to Kathleen and his family.”

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The legendary broadcaster also presented a long-running radio show on RTE Radio 1, first known as The Gay Byrne Hour and then The Gay Byrne Show.

The show had a close relationship with its listeners, many of whom wrote to or phoned Gay to comment on the issues of the day, and with their own stories.

He won a Jacob’s Award for the programme in 1976.

Over his long career Gay presented The Rose of Tralee, The Calor Housewife of the Year competition, as well as a range of special programmes.

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He presented his final daily radio show in 1998 and his final Late Late Show the following summer.

However, he did not retire from public life, becoming the chairman of the Road Safety Authority and presenting other acclaimed television shows, including The Meaning of Life.

He is survived by his wife Kathleen, their daughters Crona and Suzy, and their families.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described Mr Byrne as a "much-loved figure who changed Ireland for the better in so many ways", on a statement on Twitter.

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Mr Byrne was described as a man “of great charisma” by Ireland’s president Michael D Higgins.

Broadcaster Ryan Tubridy was among those who paid tribute to Mr Byrne.

“We in RTE have lost a friend, a family have lost a father and a husband and the country has lost an icon,” he said.