David Horowitz, TV's 'Fight Back!' Consumer Advocate, Dies at 81

Erik Hyler
David Horowitz

He was a regular guest on Johnny Carson's 'Tonight Show' and once was held hostage during a 4 p.m. local newscast.

David Horowitz, the creator and host of the popular Fight Back! news segments and programs that went to bat for consumers, has died. He was 81.

Horowitz died Thursday in Los Angeles from complications related to dementia, a family spokesman announced.

A 15-time Emmy Award winner, Horowitz confronted companies and investigated defective products and false claims for everyday people. He spent two decades at KNBC-TV in Los Angeles before moving to KCBS-TV starting in 1993, and his syndicated Fight Back! With David Horowitz was on the air for 18 years in more than 60 markets.

Horowitz also had a radio program on more than 200 U.S. stations and a syndicated newspaper column as well.

"I don't want anyone to take me for a sucker, and I don't want to see anyone else taken either," he once said. "A lot of things are unfair in life. It's tough; that's the way it is. But, by heaven, if you can do something about it, do it."

Horowitz was the Today show's consumer correspondent for eight years, and he appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson more than 40 times. One of Carson's recurring characters was "David Howitzer, Consumer Supporter," and that gained him a legion of fans.

Horowitz also appeared as himself on episodes of such shows as Silver Spoons, ALF, The Golden Girls and Saved by the Bell.

While live on the air during a KNBC 4 p.m. newscast in August 1987, Horowitz was taken hostage and forced to read a long letter by a deranged man who appeared to be wielding a loaded gun. He remained calm, and it turned out the gun was a toy replica.

"The guy came up and put a gun in my back, [and] my first reaction was, 'I can't believe this is happening,'" he told the Los Angeles Times in 1987. "His first words to me were, 'Read this or I'll shoot you!' People later told me how calm I looked, but believe me, I wasn't!"

Horowitz then led a campaign that drafted legislation in California, New York and 12 other states that banned or regulated look-alike toy guns. Congress also passed a bill regulating the shapes and colors of toy guns so that they no longer appear realistic.

Born on June 30, 1937, in the Bronx, Horowitz graduated from Bradley University in 1959 and then received his master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University. He covered the Vietnam War as a correspondent and cameraman before becoming a writer for NBC's Huntley-Brinkley Report.

In 1973, NBC News asked Horowitz to develop a consumer-reporting segment. He joined KNBC that year.

A popular Fight Back! feature was its commercial challenges, in which products were dropped from helicopters or tested for durability by Geeta the Elephant. The show, however, also had serious investigative segments that led to criminal prosecutions and legislation.

Survivors include his wife, Suzanne, two daughters and two grandchildren.

"He was an extraordinary man whose life was defined by his vision translated through a continuous stream of remarkable achievements — all to make the world a better and more honest place," his family said in a statement.