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Gay Byrne: Veteran Irish broadcaster dies aged 85

Gay Byrne Image copyright RTÉ

Renowned Irish broadcaster Gay Byrne has died at the age of 85.

A broadcasting giant in the Republic of Ireland, he hosted the Late Late Show for more than 30 years on the country's national broadcaster RTÉ.

Major figures from entertainment and politics paid tribute to him after his death on Monday after a long illness.

Irish President Michael D Higgins said Byrne was a "man of great charisma", had compassion in abundance and a "sense of what was just".

RTÉ's director general Dee Forbes described him as an exceptional broadcaster with a "unique and groundbreaking style".

"He not only defined generations but he deftly arbitrated the growth and development of a nation," she said.

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Media captionWhen Gay Byrne met Boyzone

"Ireland grew up under Gay Byrne and we will never see his like again."

His wife Kathleen and their daughters Crona and Suzy said he died at home surrounded by his family.

"We wish to thank everybody for their love and support during Gay's illness, particularly the wonderful teams in the Mater Hospital, St Francis Hospice and the Irish Cancer Society," they said.

Image copyright INM
Image caption Gay Byrne interviewed Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams on the Late Late Show in 1994

Obituary: Gay Byrne

Gay Byrne, or Gaybo as he was almost universally known, was the leading Irish broadcaster of his era.

As anchor of the Late Late Show, he steered the audience through the highs and lows of Irish life.

From Ballybunion to Buncrana, he was a familiar and controversial face on Irish screens every Friday night, presiding over the shifting moods of the country.

Read more: The leading Irish broadcaster of his era

Byrne hosted the Late Late Show - which combined light entertainment and current affairs - in a relaxed but intelligent manner.

The show embraced discussion about divorce, abortion and sexuality, which were regarded as controversial subjects in Ireland at the time.

It made headlines with highlights such as a 1993 interview with Annie Murphy, who had a child with the former Bishop of Galway Eamon Casey.

Image copyright Sportsfile
Image caption Byrne's wife Kathleen Watkins - pictured with him in 2015 - said he died surrounded by his family

In 1992, the then Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Brooke fell foul of the show when he was coaxed into singing Oh My Darling Clementine on a day when seven Protestant workmen were killed in an IRA bomb.

Byrne also fronted a long-running radio show that was first known as the Gay Byrne Hour and later the Gay Byrne Show.

He also presented the Rose of Tralee pageant, the Housewife of the Year competition and a range of special programmes.

Image copyright INM
Image caption Singer Sinead O'Connor appeared on Byrne's final Late Late Show in 1999

He presented his final daily radio show in 1998 and his last Late Late Show the following summer.

Early in his career he also worked for Granada Television and the BBC.

President Higgins said Mr Byrne's work "shone a light not only on the bright but also the dark sides of Irish life".

"[He helped] shape our conscience, our self-image and our idea of who we might be," added the president.

Some of Byrne's fellow broadcasters took to social media to pay tribute to him.

Graham Norton, the Irish presenter who hosts TV and radio shows for the BBC, said Byrne "showed us all how it should be done".

Irish comedian and presenter Dara Ó Briain tweeted that Byrne had lived an "enormous life".

Presenter Eamonn Holmes, from Northern Ireland, called him "the broadcaster we all wanted to be".

Byrne was described as Ireland's greatest broadcaster by the ITV presenter Piers Morgan.

The Irish former Manchester United and Aston Villa footballer Paul McGrath, who was interviewed by Byrne, said the presenter had been "so kind to me".

Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar said Byrne "changed Ireland for the better".

Dublin's lord mayor said a book of condolence would open on Tuesday to allow people to send their sympathies to Byrne's family.

In spite of his considerable success, Byrne faced financial problems after his pension was wiped out during the Irish recession.

A dispute between a financial fund and his family partnership was settled in court last year.

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