Michael Parkinson, UK’s ‘king of the chat show’, dies aged 88

By Kylie MacLellan

LONDON (Reuters) -British broadcaster Michael Parkinson, best known for interviewing some of the world’s biggest celebrities on his long-running eponymous chat show, has died aged 88.

Parkinson, affectionately known as ‘Parky’, estimated he had interviewed more than 2,000 guests in total, including high-profile names such as Muhammad Ali, Elton John, John Lennon, the Beckhams, Michael Caine, and Madonna.

“Michael was the king of the chat show and he defined the format for all the presenters and shows that followed,” said BBC Director General Tim Davie on Thursday.

“He interviewed the biggest stars of the 20th century and did so in a way that enthralled the public. Michael was not only brilliant at asking questions, he was also a wonderful listener.”

Born on March 28, 1935 in Yorkshire in northern England, the son of a miner, Parkinson left school at the age of 16 with dreams of becoming a professional cricketer but after a period of National Service in the army, instead turned to local newspaper journalism.

After moving into current affairs television in the late 1960s, he was given his own prime-time chat show ‘Parkinson’ by the BBC in 1971.

It initially ran for 11 years, before being revived in 1998 and later moving to ITV until its end in 2007. Parkinson, who defined a chat show as “an unnatural act between consenting adults in public”, revealed he had bought the chair from which he conducted many of his interviews for 2,000 pounds ($2,541).


Ali was one of his most memorable guests. Parkinson sparred with the U.S. boxing great in a series of interviews spanning a decade, introducing his career to a British audience and charting his shifting political and religious views. He later wrote a biography on Ali based around the interviews.

“He was the greatest interviewer of our age who owned Saturday night TV for year after year,” BBC journalist Nick Robinson said in a post on messaging platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

In 2013 Parkinson revealed he was receiving radiotherapy treatment for prostate cancer, but got the all-clear from doctors two years later. He is survived by his wife of more than 60 years, Mary, and their three children.

“After a brief illness Sir Michael Parkinson passed away peacefully at home last night in the company of his family,” a family statement said.

Parkinson, who was knighted in 2008, was also known for two uncomfortable interviews with actors Helen Mirren and Meg Ryan. With Mirren he was accused of sexism after he asked if her “physical attributes” had hindered her career and whether her figure could detract from her performance.

With Ryan, the two engaged in a frosty, terse interview before Ryan told him to “wrap it up”. Parkinson later said he regretted getting angry with the actress.

While he listed U.S. film director Orson Welles as one of his favourite guests, Parkinson also acknowledged many would simply recall the show where he was attacked by comedian Rod Hull’s puppet Emu.

“All the wonderful interviews in my show – yet I’ll probably be remembered for that bloody bird,” he said.

($1 = 0.7870 pounds)

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan, Suban Abdulla and Kate Holton; editing by William James, Michael Holden and Christina Fincher)