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Italian quiz show host

September 10, 2009|Times Staff and Wire Reports

Mike Bongiorno, 85, a TV host who popularized quiz shows for generations of Italians, died Tuesday of a heart attack at his home in Monte Carlo, Italian news media reported.

Nicknamed "The Quiz King," Bongiorno was one of Italy's most enduring and beloved TV personalities. His gaffes were legendary and his greeting to viewers -- "Allegria!" (Cheers!) -- a trademark.

Vatican Radio called him a "milestone" of Italian TV, and President Giorgio Napolitano said Bongiorno was a "household presence" for Italian families.

He appeared on RAI state TV on its first day of programming in the early 1950s and hosted a series of successful quiz shows -- many of them adaptations of U.S. shows -- for more than two decades.

He was among the first and, at that point, most prominent personalities to move to private TV, contributing to the success of the TV company owned by Silvio Berlusconi, the current Italian prime minister, in the early 1980s. He recently left Berlusconi's company and was working for Sky Italia.

Born in 1924 in New York, Bongiorno moved to his mother's hometown of Turin, Italy, as a young boy.

During World War II he took part in the Italian resistance and was briefly incarcerated. ANSA news agency said he was captured by the Gestapo and deported to a German concentration camp before being freed in a prisoner-of-war exchange.

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