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Art Linkletter Honored for Lifetime Achievements - 2002-04-06

The veteran broadcaster Art Linkletter has been honored in Hollywood for his lifetime achievements. The host of popular shows in the 1950s and '60s, he later became a best-selling author. At age 89, Art Linkletter is pursuing a third career as a motivational speaker.

There were hard knocks along the way and some family tragedies, but for the most part Art Linkletter's life reads like a storybook success tale. Born in the Canadian city of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, he was abandoned on a church step as a baby. The church's minister and his wife adopted him and the family later settled in San Diego, California.

He attended San Diego State College, planning to become an English teacher, but he left to accept a job at a local radio station. "I was a young radio announcer at [station] KGB in San Diego in 1933, and decided I would go on and finish college and be a professor because I couldn't sing, play a musical instrument, tell a funny story or be an actor, and that's all that mattered," he says. "They didn't pay anything to people in the news department, or anything to sports announcers. And just then I heard a couple of young guys in Dallas, Texas, on CBS (Radio) who actually took a microphone and a cable and took it out the window and stopped people on the street. It was called the 'man on the street.' And I heard that and I said 'that's what I can do.'"

The idea of speaking spontaneously to ordinary people would make the young host a star, first in San Diego and later in San Francisco. He had one false start in Hollywood, leaving after two difficult years and viewing himself as a failure. But by the mid-1940s, he was back to host a series of popular national programs over the next three decades.

Art Linkletter hosted "House Party," "People Are Funny" and "Kids say the Darndest Things." Over the years, he interviewed tens of thousands of children, and just as many adults and senior citizens.

The children were unpredictable and Mr. Linkletter had a knack for bringing out their funny responses. "When I ask them what church they go to, they say, 'Well, I don't really remember. We're either Catholic or Prostitute.' On the other hand, I can ask 100-year-old lady what's the best thing about being 100, she says, 'I don't know, I think it's because there's so little peer pressure.'"

In 1969, Mr. Linkletter's life took a dramatic turn when he lost his daughter, Diane, in a drug-related suicide. He started speaking on drug abuse, which led to a career as a motivational speaker.

Entertainer Johnny Grant, known as the honorary mayor of Hollywood, hosted a recent luncheon to honor Art Linkletter for his lifetime achievements. Mr. Grant says despite being one of Hollywood's top personalities, Art Linkletter has always been "an ordinary guy," accessible to his fans and the local community. "He is an icon, and I think more importantly, he was always involved in the Hollywood community. I know he rode in the Hollywood Christmas parade 17 different times," he says. "And he was a big supporter of the Hollywood YMCA. You knew that if you wanted to find Art Linkletter, you knew at noon he would be playing handball at the Hollywood YMCA."

Exercise was part of a busy day that often included writing. Mr. Linkletter has authored 23 books. The most popular, called "Kids Say the Darndest Things," was one of the 15 best-selling books in American publishing history. Today, he oversees business interests that range from office management to raising sheep in Australia.

A recent book, called "Old Age is Not for Sissies," summarizes advice that that he gives in speeches to seniors. "Some people are old at 40 and 50," he says. "I'm young at 89 because I'm still as goal-oriented and achievement-oriented as I was when I was 50. So I talk to them on the subject of health and on one of the principles ways of becoming happy as an old person, and that is changing your lifestyle."

For Art Linkletter, that means a healthy diet, exercise, no smoking or alcohol, and an active life like the one that he is leading.