Veteran British broadcaster Michael Parkinson has died at the age of 88, his former employer the BBC reported Thursday, citing a statement from his family.
“After a brief illness Sir Michael Parkinson passed away peacefully at home last night in the company of his family,” the statement said, according to the BBC. His family requested privacy.
Parkinson interviewed many of the world’s most famous people on his long-running show, which launched in 1971. It initially ran for 11 years, before returning in 1998 and ending in 2007.
Guests included Muhammad Ali, John Lennon, Elton John, Nelson Mandela and Judi Dench.
Tim Davie, the BBC’s director-general, paid tribute to “the king of the chat show,” who “defined the format for all the presenters and shows that followed.”
“He interviewed the biggest stars of the 20th century and did so in a way that enthralled the public. Michael was not only brilliant at asking questions, he was also a wonderful listener,” Davie added in a statement Thursday.
Parkinson’s interviewing style marked a change from the traditional American chat shows, eschewing desks in favor of a more intimate set up.
“When you’re interviewing people you can’t have anything that bars you, takes you away from that intimacy that you hope develops,” Parkinson said in 2016 at a BAFTA event celebrating his career.
It was a style that produced some remarkable moments from his guests, such as when Ali famously remarked: “How come is everything White?” while detailing the entrenched nature of racism, and when then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that God would judge his decision to go to war in Iraq.
Parkinson’s wide-ranging interviewees also included Victoria Beckham who revealed on the show that she nicknamed her husband, David, “Golden Balls.”
Tributes poured in for Parkinson on Thursday, ranging from BBC journalist Nick Robinson who called him the “greatest interviewer of our age,” to actor and comedian Stephen Fry who described being interviewed by Parkinson as “impossibly thrilling.”
However, Parkinson also courted criticism for his interview with actress Helen Mirren in 1975, during which he asked if her “equipment” and “physical attributes” had hindered her career.
Years later, Mirren described the exchange as “sexist,” telling the Daily Telegraph in 2011: “That’s the first talk show I’d ever done. I was terrified. I watched it and I actually thought, bloody hell! I did really well. I was so young and inexperienced.”
Parkinson acknowledged in a 2016 BBC interview that he “behaved like a prat,” but didn’t think he needed to apologize. Mirren and Parkinson appeared on another show together in 2008, the TV host told the BBC, and “laughed like two intelligent human beings.”