Saturday, November 29, 2008


From 1987 to 1989, Morton Downey Jr. thrived as the wart-faced descendant of abrasive talk show pioneer Joe Pyne, cigarette smoke his blowhard trademark. He'd paid his dues with local talk shows on radio and TV. When he left KFBK-AM, a fellow named Rush Limbaugh replaced him.
As Downey's fame soared, David Letterman, noting Pyne's brief flash of fame, said "We see this every 10 or 12 years...I don't quite understand why everybody's falling over backwards over the guy." Soon enough, people were bored with the cries of "Zip it" and the artificial confrontations. In these pre-Springer days, there weren't enough morons to keep Mort on the air, and the indie stations running his syndicated show suffered backlash from sponsors.
In 1989, Downey knew he was flaming out, and made a desperate attempt to show he was still relevant. He emerged from a San Francisco International Airport toilet with a swastika strangely marked backwards on his face. He claimed he'd been attacked by Neo-Nazis, but it was obvious that he was lying...and only someone using a mirror could've made a backwards swastika.
Mort's show sank, as did his 1990 "Morton Downey Jr. Sings" album. A somewhat nicer Downey was on the cover, befitting a man who had self-consciously had his warts an attempt to give his critics a little less of a visual target. Always known as a "loudmouth," Morton's choice of singing style will surprise you. Showing a somewhat weak country tenor, and here, abetted by a band member to form a Dr. Hook-ish duet, Downey offers a down, quietly pessimistic view of the future. The guy was actually a singer before he grabbed fame as a shock-talk host. In the early 80's he was Sean Morton Downey, and his 1981 country single, "Green-Eyed Girl," grazed the outer reaches of the Country Top 100 chart.
Downey bounced around various local TV and radio stations, and had a lung removed during cancer surgery in 1996. He died in 2001.
But back in 1990 he was convinced the planet was dying...
"There ain't no solution to pollution anymore. We won a couple' battles but we're losing the war. We're dumpin' in our oceans, we run sewers in our lakes. We build mountains made of garbage and we bury toxic waste....take a look around you, man is snuffing out his life."

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