Former talkshow host and Grammy winner Les Crane, the first to challenge latenight king Johnny Carson, died Sunday of natural causes at Marin County’s Marin General Hospital. He was 74.
NYC native and Tulane U. graduate scored a surprise Grammy for spoken word in 1971 with his reading of “Desiderata,” which peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard charts. His restful voice intoning over a musical score became a counterculture hit (and also was parodied in 1972 by National Lampoon).
The Air Force vet began his radio career in New Orleans and later became the popular, confrontational and sometimes controversial host of San Francisco’s KGO, the signal of which reached the entire West Coast. Helping pioneer talk radio, he was outspoken and outraged some callers by hanging up on them. He also aired latenight “Crane at the hungry i” before moving on to TV, where he interviewed newcomers including Barbra Streisand and comic Professor Irwin Corey.
Casey Kasem credits Crane along with John Barrett with founding what becane the “American Top 40” at KRLA. He has also been credited with naming the group the Mamas and the Papas.
Crane moved to the smallscreen as host of talkshows on ABC, most notably “The Les Crane Show” (later “ABC’s Nightlife”) in 1964-65, where some of his exclusive guests included the Rolling Stones on their first American TV appearance, Bob Dylan, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Robert F. Kennedy. He was also the first television host to interview an openly gay person, Randy Wicker.
His brief acting career includes 1966 film “An American Dream,” and he is mentioned in that year’s Phil Ochs song “Love Me, I’m a Liberal.”
But unique among performers, he stepped away from the cameras and entered the software industry as chairman of the Software Toolworks. Under his leadership, Toolworks produced such computer gaming as Chessmaster 2000, the Original Adventure and the PC version of Pong as well as teaching tools.
He was married for five years to actress Tina Louise, and their daughter Caprice Crane became an author as well as TV and film writer-producer. Besides his daughter, he is survived by his wife of 20 years, Ginger Crane.
Services are expected to be private.
Memorial donations can be made to agencies attempting to resolve the crisis in Darfur, which his daughter says was his “cause of choice.”