Milton Berle, the cigar-smoking, dress-wearing vaudevillian known as “Mr. Television,” died Wednesday. He was 93.
Berle had been diagnosed with colon cancer last year, suffered a stroke in 1998 and had been under hospice care for the past few weeks. According to his publicist Warren Cowan, Berle died at 2:45 p.m. at his home with wife Lorna and several family members at his side.
“Uncle Miltie” helped usher in the television age back in the late 1940s with his hugely popular hour-long Tuesday night variety show, “Texaco Star Theater” (later renamed “The Milton Berle Show”), which ran from June 1948 to June 1956.
“He was responsible for the television set in your home today,” Cowan said. “He put television on the map.”
Berle’s show was watched on four out of every five sets in the nation just in its first season, and he quickly became the new medium’s highest-paid funny man. In 1951, NBC signed him to an unprecedented contract calling for $100,000 a year for 30 years– whether Berle worked or not.
Berle also won an Emmy for the program.
The comedian is survived by four children and his wife Lorna.