Entertainer Don Lane dies at 75

American-born TV host was Australian talk show pioneer

SYDNEY -- Don Lane, the American-born TV host, comedian and entertainer who Australian audiences took into their hearts for 18 years, passed away Thursday in Sydney from a dementia-related illness aged 75, his manager Jayne Ambrose said.

Lane, credited with pioneering the talk and variety show formats here, arrived in Australia in 1965, on a six-week contract to take over hosting Channel Nine’s “The Tonight Show” from Irish comedian, Dave Allen.

Lane, born Morton Donald Isaacson in New York and who earned the nickname the Lanky Yank here, became an instant hit with local audiences and his six-week stint was extended to include most of the second half of the 1960s.
 From 1975-1983 he fronted “The Don Lane Show,” which ran for eight and a half years on the Nine Network, dominating prime time television, driving Lane to become Australian TV’s highest-paid performer and breaking down Australia’s “tyranny of distance” with pioneering segments like the live satellite interview. With those Lane brought a string of stars including Sammy Davis Jr, Bob Hope, Liza Minnelli, Charlton Heston, Tony Curtis, and in his first-ever live tonight show appearance anywhere in the world, a very young Robin Williams. 

Aussie TV star Bert Newton, who still hosts several programs on the Nine Network, made his name as Lane’s sidekick for nearly a decade, with their show forging a friendship that spanned 30 years. Newton said today that “Australian television and, in particular, variety television, owe so much to Don. He gave it new life and his show became one of the most prestigious and important programs in history. My memories today are of an outstanding performer and a friend I loved very much." 

Nine suspended its regular programming to air a one-hour tribute special to Lane Thursday night, while colleagues, current TV stars and politicians remembered him.

Nine CEO David Gyngell said “Today Australia lost one of its finest all-round entertainers. Don Lane was a stalwart of the industry and a great mate to so many of us here at Nine. While Don may have passed, the memories and the laughs he provided will remain with us for many years to come. Our deepest condolences are conveyed to Jayne Ambrose, (son) PJ and Don’s extended family.”

Federal Arts minister Peter Garrett added "the very popular Australian entertainer" was a "household name. On behalf of the government I pass on to his family, friends and colleagues the tragic sympathies for his loss," he told Parliament.
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