Robert Osborne, the face of TCM, has died

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The genial and pleasant host of Turner Classic Movies, Robert Osborne, has passed away. He was 84. No cause of death has been released, but his ill health had kept him from many of his activities with the network.

Robert Osborne as a young actor in the pilot episode of “The Beverly Hillbillies” September 26, 1962 (YouTube)

He missed some TCM Hollywood film festivals recently, events he had been hosting for years.

No matter what movies were on, whether people liked them or not, we could always be assured Robert Osborne would treat the films and the viewers with respect and dignity. There was always a little bit of history and trivia to go along with his duties of hosting Turner Classic Movies, so viewers were guaranteed to learn something if they watched, even if it was just between films.

His favorite era was the Golden Age of Hollywood: 1930s-50s, when all the actors were bigger than life. The first movie he ever introduced on TCM was the first movie ever broadcast on the channel, Gone With The Wind — April 17, 1994 at 3 p.m. PT. In the 23 years since the channel’s launch, TCM has evolved into one of the favorite channels on basic cable, largely due to Osborne’s gentle voice bringing viewers on a trip back in time, that could be as recent as 1990 or has long ago as 1939.

Osborne got his start with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez as an actor. Ball, who was Osborne’s mentor, urged him to be a write and in 1977 Osborne became a columnist for the Hollywood Reporter. Over the years he kept a notebook filled with information about the movies, for no reason other than he had a love for the medium. But then when the Turner Broadcasting Network launched TCM, it seemed like the new channel was meant for Osborne.

Robert Osborne was born in Colfax, Washington and studied journalism at the University of Washington. He also spent two years in the Air Force. Afterwards Osborne moved to Los Angeles to make it as an actor, which is where he met Lucille Ball at Desilu Studios. In 1965 he had his first book published, Academy Awards Illustrated. He has written several other books, including a series of books about the history of the Academy Awards.

Drew Barrymore with Robert Osborne, from Barrymore’s Instagram account.

Jennifer Dorian, the general manager of TCM, announced Osborne’s passing in a state. She said, “His calming presence, gentlemanly style, encyclopedic knowledge of film history, fervent support for film preservation and highly personal interviewing style all combined to make him a truly world-class host. Robert’s contributions were fundamental in shaping TCM into what it is today and we owe him a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid..”

Drew Barrymore, one of his several co-hosts for “The Essentials” series, wrote on Instagram, “Robert Osborne and I worked together for three years on THE ESSENTIALS for @turnerclassicmovies getting to speak about movies and all things classic Hollywood. He was the most wonderful and knowledgeable man. I loved him so. A true legend.”

Below is TCM’s YouTube tribute to Robert Osborne.