Robert Osborne, TCM Host and Film Historian, Dies at 84

Robert Osborne Dead
Matt Baron/BEI/BEI/Shutterstock

Film historian Robert Osborne, the effervescent primetime host of Turner Classic Movies since the cabler’s inception in 1994, has died. He was 84.

TCM’s general manager Jennifer Dorian released a statement saying, “All of us at Turner Classic Movies are deeply saddened by the death of Robert Osborne. Robert was a beloved member of the Turner family for more than 23 years. He joined us as an expert on classic film and grew to be our cherished colleague and esteemed ambassador for TCM. Robert was embraced by devoted fans who saw him as a trusted expert and friend. His calming presence, gentlemanly style, encyclopedic knowledge of film history, fervent support for film preservation and highly personal interviewing style all combined to make him a truly world-class host. Robert’s contributions were fundamental in shaping TCM into what it is today and we owe him a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this time.”

Osborne was an irrepressible advocate for the films of Hollywood’s golden era who wrote the Motion Picture Academy-sanctioned “50 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards” in 1978 and a number of updates ending in 2008 with “80 Years of the Oscar.”

Osborne lived in New York but shot his TCM appearances at the cable network’s headquarters in Atlanta. As TCM’s primary on-air personality, Osborne occupied something of an unique position in the history of television: Where once it was common for channels to provide hosts for the movies they programmed, TCM is now the last U.S. movie network to regularly feature hosts who offer information about a film before it begins.

Before the launch of TCM, Osborne hosted films on the Movie Channel from 1986-93.

Osborne started in showbiz as an actor under contract to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s Desilu. He made a few guest appearances on TV series including “The Beverly Hillbillies” and appeared onstage in the Ball-produced “The Desilu Revue”; a national tour of the play “Generation” with Robert Cummings; and the first production of Paddy Chayefsky’s “The Latent Heterosexual,” directed by Burgess Meredith and starring Zero Mostel. Nevertheless, Ball, impressed by his college education, suggested that Osborne write a book. (She remained a friend until her death.) He responded with a short history of the Oscars, “Academy Awards Illustrated,” leading to stints as an entertainment reporter for TV stations in Los Angeles and New York and then to a similar gig on “CBS Morning News” in the late ’80s.

Osborne joined the staff of the Hollywood Reporter in 1977 and penned its “Rambling Reporter” column from 1982-2009; he wrote breezy, personality-oriented items and also reviewed films and Broadway plays.

After Variety’s Army Archerd, Osborne was the official greeter on the red carpet for the Academy Awards from 2006-10. Entertainment Weekly’s Dave Karger replaced him in 2011.

As TCM sought to expand its brand beyond the smallscreen, Osborne hosted the inaugural TCM Classic Film Festival in 2010 and subsequent editions in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, and he took to the seas for the TCM Classic Cruise in December 2011 and in subsequent years.

In a 2006 New York Times profile of Osborne and his apartment — at a tony Manhattan building coincidentally named the Osborne — the genial film maven gently expressed his frustration with enthusiastic but unknowledgeable fans of classic movies. After such a fan guessed that he would not know what turned out to be a familiar title, he responded, “Well, do you want me to tell you who’s in it in order of their billing or would you rather I tell you what theater it played in New York and for how long?”

He hosted TCM’s “Essentials” series of films with a series of co-hosts: Molly Haskell, Carrie Fisher, Rose McGowan, Alec Baldwin and Drew Barrymore. (“Saturday Night Live” spoofed the series in a recurring sketch with Jason Sudeikis as Osborne.) For TCM’s “Private Screening” series, Osborne interviewed stars including Lauren Bacall, Betty Hutton, Angela Lansbury, Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Robert Mitchum, Jane Powell, Anthony Quinn and Jane Russell; producer Walter Mirisch; and directors Sidney Lumet, Stanley Donen and Norman Jewison.

In addition to his TCM- and AMPAS-related activities, Osborne sponsored an annual classic-film festival, named after him, at the U. of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication in Athens, Ga. The nonprofit event was held from 2005-10.

Osborne had a small role as a reporter in 1980 film “The Man With Bogart’s Face” and sent up his TCM persona in an episode of Adult Swim’s “Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law” named “Turner Classic Birdman.” He also narrated numerous film-themed documentaries or appeared onscreen offering his take on the subject matter as a film historian. Among these documentaries were a number on Alfred Hitchcock as well as one called “The Desilu Story.”

Robert Jolin Osborne was born in Colfax, Wash., served two years in the Air Force as a lieutenant and graduated from the U. of Washington’s School of Journalism.

Osborne served as a host-narrator with several symphony orchestras, including the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, the Boston Pops and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

He took a three-month medical leave of absence from TCM starting in July 2011 that stretched to five months, but he returned in December 2011 to a somewhat diminished set of responsibilities as Ben Mankiewicz, his fellow host on TCM, increased his on-air duties.

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  1. Stephen R. says:

    What a truly wonderful guy. This one hurts.

  2. T Heydt says:

    We always looked forward to Robert’s comments on TCM. Very sad to see his passing.
    Tom
    (Scottsdale, AZ)

  3. Marcia says:

    Mr. Osborne was a true gentleman. TCM will never be the same to me. He seemed like an old friend. I am so sad to know I will never be able to look upon his face and hear his calming voice. My prayers are with his love ones, family and friends. Heaven gained a wonderful person.

    • Richard Miller says:

      Very nicely put. I hate to say it but TCM has put some female on Saturdays-she dosnt cut the mustard.

  4. ithadtobeyou44 says:

    Just learned of Robert Osborne passing. Always enjoyed his smooth voice and his knowledge of the actors and actresses and the films. Especially enjoyed his background on how the actors was picked for the part. Such an excellent history of information. I still enjoy TCM, but he will be missed. My condolences to all his family and friends.

  5. Jim Brossard says:

    Dear God, you have a very special person so dear to so many of the great film lovers. Turner Classics, please continue the greatest programming on cable T.V.! We will all miss the greatness that Robert Osborn gave. It is however imperative these films that myself and many others consider to be the last of great acting remain available for all to see.

  6. Richard Miller says:

    He will be missed by many. After watching parts of his “Interviews Tribute) He was certainly loved by many in early show biz.

  7. amylynniebug says:

    I signed in and my comment is gone.
    I … I need to write this, but I can never re-craft the right words, dangit.
    I love Robert O so much, and will try to write “why”, as I think it is worth writing and reading… he pretty much saved my life.
    I am so, so sad and cannot imagine how you who knew this wonderful human and saw him every day or even once in a while are doing. Thank you for sharing him with us….

  8. Lisa Banks says:

    I’m so saddened to learn about Robert Osborne’s death. I discovered TCM and Robert Osborne only 3 years ago, and have been a HUGE fan of both since then. You will be missed Robert. This is a very sad day… Much Love… Sincerely, Lisa A. Banks

  9. Jeri Stockman says:

    Robert Osborne will be sadly missed by many. Such a wonderful example of a distinguished, educated persona for us to learn from. I just loved hearing him talk and describe films to be presented. Our condolences to his family and friends. RIP Mr. Osborne

  10. zuzusays says:

    Watching the tribute to Robert Osborne i’ve just learned that he died on March 6th. I will always be amused that a few years ago the film Smile that I had a small “with” part in was considered “Classic” and introduced by Robert and a guest. It was more fun than being in the movie. We’ll miss Robert’s interviews with real stars and his knowledge shared with us.

  11. Barbara Devlin says:

    Just learned today that Robert Osborne died on March 6th. How sad! Have been watching TCM all day.Thanks for all your priceless interviews and for keeping the classics alive.

  12. Eugenia Kachure says:

    Just watching tribute to Robert Osborne.What a gentle and giving man.What a sad day when I heard of his death.

  13. Maureen says:

    I am so grateful to Mr. Osborne for his grace and elegance, his knowledge and endurance. As a young local TV news anchor in upstate NY I recall his critiques of film. Later I couldn’t get enough of Mr. Osborne and his classic films on TCM. It was a calm and “safe” take the world after a day of reality and current events. Thank you for all you did for both the stars of Hollywood, and to the everyday people in small towns across America.

  14. Koreen Kuritz says:

    TCM will NEVER be the same. The world has lost a wonderful film historian and a memorable character on his own. RIP you wonderful friend you! Thank you for sharing your life and knowledge with us!!

  15. Tammy Clarke says:

    will miss you Mr Osborne everytime i watch TCM…. you were inspiring to watch …. thinking of your family friends & loved ones

  16. MariaEllena Stewart says:

    Mr. Osborne…you were an informative, classy and always taught me something about the classic films I love. You shall be missed by so many film lovers. My condolences to your family.

  17. John says:

    RIP Mr. Osborne. You were the one constant I could look forward to on television. You were informative, gracious, and a gentleman. Godspeed.

  18. Robert Osborne was a host on Turner Classic Movies that I truly enjoyed watching because my favorite station is TCM . I get a lot of channels on my television but the one I watch more often is TCM. RIP Robert in m y heart you will be truly missed. I will never again be able to see your handsome face come into my living room each night anymore.
    I have purchased one of the bobble head dolls from the TCM store and it sits on my hutch with the TCM blue coffee cup.

  19. Tom says:

    Robert will be missed by me, at first seeing him on the The Movie Channel, then on TCM. RIP Robert O. say hello to WC fields for me….. ps you forgot Sidney Pollock who hosted the essentials for 3 years.

  20. Goodbye Robert, you will be missed but never forgotten. , you are so loved by so many rest in peace.

  21. Phil & Pat Pierce says:

    Robert was the person who brought the past up to today’s new age group in explaining the quality of the past and how it works in today’s lifestyle. He had a quality about him that few ever have had or will. He will be missed. Onward and to the heavens Robert where so many of your stars are now and now you are with them with open arms.

  22. Lisa Schneider says:

    So devastated to hear of Robert’s passing. My TV was always set to TCM throughout the day and night. When Robert’s voice would enter the room, I felt like an old friend had come to visit me, soothed by his wonderful voice and incredible knowledge as a film historian and a dear friend to so many stars. I was never alone when I heard his lovely voice. He was a real presence in my life ( through the TV alone) and to millions of TCM viewers. Rest in Peace. We will all miss you so much old friend.

  23. Merry Horvath says:

    I just heard the news of Roberts passing and shed tears for this incredible man. May you Rest in Peace

  24. Edward Zaretsky says:

    I have watched Robert for many years and he was a treat to watch. It will be hard to watch TCM without seeing him. Have a good journey.

  25. Erika Fels says:

    Dear Robert, You have been in my living room for at least 15 years. I will forever miss your insight and love for movies that we shared together. You are a man who cannot be replaced. Thank-you for giving me so many happy hours of enjoying films with you. I am saddened by your passing. There is a hole in my heart that cannot be filled. I will remember you with a smile, for you were a gentle soul with a passion for film that is unsurpassed. Although we never met, I consider you a friend. I am missing you. Now you are with your great friends, Bogart, Grant, Stanwyck, Hepburn, Taylor, Bacall, Skeleton, and so many others. Thinking of you there, sipping champagne and having a grand time! Erika Fels

  26. Joanne says:

    So very sad to hear this. He was a wonderful human being. RIP, Robert. We will miss you always. To Variety: Please check your article for a typo. Did he really live in a tony apartment?

  27. So sorry to hear about Robert Osborne I have been watching TCM for years now and enjoyed him. He knew so much movie history. I will miss him… RIP Robert Osborne :-(

  28. StevenKeys says:

    Don’t know if Robert was religious but I’ll think movies were his church, a celebration where anyone might attend. His death and exit from TCM last year marks the end of a joyous era for classic film fans and the start of another which has seen the channel trend to a contemporary content in a youthenization that’s now ubiquitous (See; Disney sport (ESPN), AMC, etc.). It’s a trend Bob could not have liked given this statement he made to Alec Baldwin: “You leave a movie today and you just want to kill yourself.” Singin’ In the Rain and Ben Hur (59) aren’t going anywhere but those lower budget, comedy & romance (Mama Steps Out), non-noirs, will start to get shelved, especially in prime-time slots.

    In his time, Mr. Osborne was a movie star equal to those famous names & faces he so clearly explained to vintage viewers for 20 years but likely more approachable to those who recognized his silver hair and easy smile. Maybe now he can ask Bill Holden and Gene Tierney all those questions decorum prevented in this life.

    Good journey and “Good Night,” movie man. Definitely a Beatles week.

  29. Daisy says:

    Sad news. His commentaries and love of classic films was such a perk to watching TCM. RIP, kind sir.

  30. Rose Johnson says:

    Robert Osborne was a class act. Much of my knowledge about movies came from listening and watching him. Although I never met him, I always felt like he could be your best friend. I have watched him on Turner classic movies for the past 17 years. I will truly miss him. May God in his infinite wisdom continue to be with his family at this time. Rose Johnson

  31. Michael T says:

    Robert will be missed. He was the consummate gentleman. His knowledge of the movies and the industry in general was welcome. He interviewed his guests with respect but he never was intimidated by the “stars”.

  32. Elizabeth Barcena says:

    My wife and I will miss him and perhaps we will meet him again, that would be a delightful surprise.

  33. Such a wonderful interviewer & commentator! I’ve been saving old movies on Vhs for over 25yrs and my favorite saves are the ones that Robert Osborne introduces & closes the movie… his appreciation of film, story, the actors, always makes watching those movies more enjoyable. Ben Mankiewicz does a great job too, but Robert Osborn was a TCM gem and will truly be missed!

  34. Gail Stevens says:

    What a wonderful human being Mr Osborne was.
    I know that lots of young people came to the Golden Age because of his life long passion for films and how he passed it on. I hope the TCM tribute day to him will be filled with all his interviews so we can all listen to that lovely mans voice one more time. He’s busy somewhere being introduced around by Bette. He will be missed.

  35. constance ann belmore says:

    I will miss him, I was very sad this morning when I heard of his passing .

  36. bob says:

    Sad to see him pass. Such a class act in a world that increasingly classless.

  37. Timely Comment says:

    A cineaste in service to the Artform of movies— who enabled others to join in with his TCM show.

    Gave me those all those Foreign, Animated, and now-sadly obscured Classic movies on tv when even the local Landmark stopped showing “repertory” films in favor of the recently-released ones. Just the Criterion selections served a film education to the audience outside those college Cinema classes…

    Rest in Peace, Mr. Osborn— and thank you for the hours of films!

  38. Greg says:

    There is no one on deck at TCM that even comes close to filling Robert Osborne’s shoes. The station has taken a definite nose dive since his departure. Robert Osborne was a great man. He will be sorely missed.

  39. Penny says:

    Robert Osborne seemed like a lovely man. His interviews with celebrities were always respectful, informative and caring. I especially remember his visit with Betty Hutton, whom he made so comfortable after she stated how scared she was. I always liked to watch “The Essentials” with his guest hosts and he knew so much about the movies! He was a lovely human being and that came across the TV screen. I will miss seeing him. Rest In Peace Mr. Osborne.

  40. I was so saddened to hear of this this evening.Robert Osborne is the face of Turner Classic Movies. I’ve always enjoyed his commentary, his gentlemanly style and his passion for film. It won’t be the same without him.Hopefully TMC will continue hosting in the same informative and appreciative vein that Robert Osborne personified.

  41. I am heartbroken by this news. Robert Osborn kept me going when I was recovering from serious illness and several surgeries. He was truly a blessing to me. I’m crying like a baby.

  42. Del Wolfe says:

    I might not remember all he said , but I will never forget how he made me feel .

  43. Joe Keyerleber says:

    We will miss Robert Osborne as though he were a family member. Robert (and modern technology) has been keeping all the old films alive and presenting them to new generations. Robert cannot be replaced, but let’s hope TCM can continue their mission of preserving and presenting the great (and not so great) movies of our past.

  44. Larry Laiken says:

    When a local film critic recently tried to stump our cinema club with arcane Oscar questions, I kept raising my hand to answer. Baffled by my voluminous knowledge of Oscar trivia, he asked me if I was “in the business.” I replied, no, everything I know came from reading Robert Osborne’s Academy Awards Illustrated series when I was 16. Thank you, Mr. Osborne for passing along your passion.

    • Kate R.Brown says:

      I am truly heartbroken……I spend most of my time in bed watching TCM and Robert has and will continue to be missed. I truly love TCM but Robert made it even better. He was like an old family friend invited into my home…… RIP Mr Osborne.

  45. Paula says:

    This is a sad day. TCM will never be the same. Mr. Osborne will be missed.

  46. Cerph says:

    Mr. Osborne is and was the face of TCM. It will never be the same.

  47. margaret richardson says:

    Robert made such a welcome place for everyone at TCM– what a loving person, and a great guide- I am sad he has moved on.

  48. Marybeth Mank says:

    I am so sad to hear this… I loved watching & listening to him. He was on the level of of Alistair Cooke and David McCullough. His voice was comforting and his demeanor so dignified, gentlemanly and warm. I loved listening to his stories and tidbits about various films, and I almost always learned something new even about films I thought I knew inside and out. It will be somewhat bittersweet watching TCM now, even though Ben Mankiewicz is also on par with these three. Mr. Osborne will be greatly missed. I imagine that he will have a blast in heaven reuniting with the stars about which he knew so much.

  49. Timothy J. DiGiuseppe says:

    Thinking about Robert now and find it difficult to accept his passing. Always looked forward to his introductions and commentary. His conversations with co-hosts on the Essentials were a must see for me (right now I am thinking of a particular program where Alec Baldwin did a hilarious impression of Mae West that made Robert laugh). I had the luck and privilege to meet him at the TCM festival. He was a class act that will be missed very much by all of us.

  50. Lynette Martin says:

    One of the fondest memories I have of my mother is watching classic movies on TCM. I always loved it when Robert Osborne introduced a movie, then shared bits of trivia about it,

    Eternal rest grant unto him oh Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

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