Italian TV icon dies at 85

The Associated PressSeptember 9, 2009 

— Mike Bongiorno, a TV host who popularized quiz shows for generations of Italians and became a symbol of national television, has died. He was 85.

Bongiorno died of a heart attack at his home in Monte Carlo, the ANSA news agency and satellite TV station Sky Italia said.

Nicknamed "The Quiz King," Bongiorno was one of Italy's most enduring and beloved TV personalities. His gaffes were legendary, and his greeting to viewers -- "Allegria!" -- a trademark.

He was so popular that Umberto Eco wrote an essay called the "Phenomenology of Mike Bongiorno," using the host as a symbol of popular culture.

He appeared on RAI state TV on its first day of programming in the early 1950s and went on to host a series of successful quiz shows for over two decades. Millions of Italians watched as he asked sometimes impossible questions of his contestants.

He was among the first and, at that point, most prominent personalities to move to private TV, contributing to the success of the TV company owned by Silvio Berlusconi, the current Italian premier, in the early 1980s.

"He was a great friend. A great protagonist of Italian TV leaves us," Berlusconi said.

Born in New York, Bongiorno moved to his mother's hometown of Turin, Italy, as a young boy. During World War II, he took part in the Italian resistance and was briefly incarcerated. ANSA said he was captured by the Gestapo and then deported to a German concentration camp before being freed in a prisoner-of-war exchange.

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