"LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Mike Douglas, the affable big band singer who for two decades hosted a parade of America's biggest stars and newsmakers on his top-rated daytime talk show, died on Friday on his 81st birthday, friends said.
Born Michael Dowd in Chicago in 1925, he began singing professionally as a teenager, and after serving in the Navy during World War Two joined bandleader Kay Kayser's Kollege of Musical Knowledge as a featured vocalist.
It was Kayser who gave him his stage name, unexpectedly introducing the young singer as Mike Douglas during a performance.
During his stint with Kayser's band, Douglas recorded such hits as "Ole Buttermilk Sky" and "The Old Lamplighter," and he later supplied the singing voice for Prince Charming in the Disney animated fairy-tale classic "Cinderella."
Subsequently hired as a "staff singer" by NBC, Douglas went on to land his own TV show at a Cleveland TV station just as he was considering getting out of show business. "The Mike Douglas Show" debuted in 1961 as a local program and was soon syndicated nationally, moving first to Philadelphia and later to Burbank, California.
Airing weekdays until 1982, the series was the top-rated daytime talk show for most of its run and attracted the biggest names in entertainment, pop culture and politics, all welcomed in the easy-going, warm style that was Douglas' trademark as a host.
"He was a genuine, nice guy -- not a mean bone in his body," recalled CNN host Larry King. "He had a geniality about him. It was easy to be around him."
Notable guests on Douglas' show ranged from such stars as Bill Cosby, Bob Hope, Marlon Brando and Barbra Streisand to non-showbiz luminaries like Rose Kennedy, Barry Goldwater and Princess Grace of Monaco. A young golf prodigy named Tiger Woods made his first televised putt on Douglas' show.
Douglas frequently shared the stage with celebrity co-hosts who helped interview other guests for several days. Among his most notable co-hosts were John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who spent a week in 1972 with such guests as Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale, anti-Vietnam War activist Jerry Rubin, consumer advocate Ralph Nader and comedian George Carlin.
Despite the radical chic that sometimes graced his show, Douglas described himself as mainstream. "I'm square and I am happy that I am," he once said."