Phil Donahue
Donahue at the Toronto International Film Festival premier of Body of War in 2007
Phillip John Donahue

(1935-12-21) December 21, 1935 (age 88)
EducationUniversity of Notre Dame (BBA)
Occupation(s)Talk show host, film producer
Years active1957–present
Margaret Cooney
(m. 1958; div. 1975)
(m. 1980)

Phillip John Donahue (born December 21, 1935) is an American media personality, writer, film producer and the creator and host of The Phil Donahue Show. The television program, later known simply as Donahue, was the first talk show format that included audience participation.[1] The show had a twenty-nine–year run on national television that began in Dayton, Ohio, in 1967 and ended in New York City in 1996.

Donahue's shows have often focused on issues that divide liberals and conservatives in the United States, such as abortion, consumer protection, civil rights and war issues. His most frequent guest was Ralph Nader, for whom Donahue campaigned in 2000.[2] Donahue also briefly hosted a talk show on MSNBC from July 2002 to March 2003. Donahue is one of the most influential talk show hosts and has been called the "king of daytime talk".[3] Oprah Winfrey has said, "If it weren't for Phil Donahue, there would never have been an Oprah Show".[3] In 1996, Donahue was ranked #42 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time.[4]

Early life

Donahue was born into a middle-income, churchgoing, Irish Catholic family in Cleveland, Ohio; his father, Phillip Donahue, was a furniture sales clerk and his mother, Catherine (née McClory) was a department store shoe clerk.[5][6][7] In 1949, he graduated from Our Lady of Angels elementary school in the West Park neighborhood of Cleveland. In 1953, Donahue was a member of the first graduating class of St. Edward High School, an all-boys college preparatory Catholic private high school run by the Congregation of Holy Cross in suburban Lakewood, Ohio. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame, which is also run by the Congregation of Holy Cross, with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in 1957.[citation needed]


Early career

Donahue began his career in 1957 as a production assistant at KYW radio and television when that station was in Cleveland. He got a chance to become an announcer one day when the regular announcer failed to show up. After a brief stint as a bank check sorter in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he became program director for WABJ radio in Adrian, Michigan, soon after graduating.[8] He moved on to become a stringer for the CBS Evening News and later, an anchor of the morning newscast at WHIO-TV in Dayton, Ohio, where his interviews with Jimmy Hoffa and Billie Sol Estes were picked up nationally. While in Dayton, Donahue also hosted Conversation Piece, an afternoon phone-in talk show from 1963 to 1967 on WHIO radio. In Dayton, Donahue interviewed presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, late-night talk show host Johnny Carson,[9] human rights activist Malcolm X and Vietnam war opponents including Jerry Rubin.[10] In Chicago and New York City, Donahue interviewed Elton John,[11] heavyweight boxing champions Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier,[12] and author and political activist Noam Chomsky.[13]

The Phil Donahue Show

Main article: The Phil Donahue Show

Donahue (right) with guest Johnny Carson in August 1970

On November 6, 1967, Donahue left WHIO, moving his talk program with The Phil Donahue Show on WLWD (now WDTN), also in Dayton. Initially, the program was shown only on other stations owned by the Crosley Broadcasting Corporation (which would later take the name of its parent Avco Company), which also owned WLWD. But, in January 1970, The Phil Donahue Show entered nationwide syndication. Donahue's syndicated show moved from Dayton, Ohio, to Chicago in 1974; then in 1984, he moved the show to New York City, where the show was shot at a studio at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

After a 29-year run—26 years in syndication and nearly 7,000 one-hour daily shows—the final original episode of Donahue aired on September 13, 1996.

While hosting his own program, Donahue also appeared on NBC's The Today Show as a contributor, from 1979 until 1988.

U.S.–Soviet Space Bridge

In the 1980s, during the Cold War period of openness by the USSR, Donahue and Soviet journalist Vladimir Posner co-hosted a series of televised discussions, known as the U.S.–Soviet Space Bridge, among everyday citizens of the Soviet Union and the United States.[14] It was the first event of its kind in broadcasting history: Donahue hosted an audience in an American city while Posner hosted an audience in a Soviet city, all on one television program. Members of both audiences asked each other questions about both nations. While the governments of both nations were preparing for the possibility of nuclear war, Donahue said: "We reached out instead of lashed out". From 1991 to 1994 Donahue and Posner co-hosted Posner/Donahue, a weekly, issues-oriented roundtable program, which aired both on CNBC and in syndication.[15] His wife Marlo Thomas created a children's version in 1988 entitled Free to Be... A Family. Donahue and Posner have been friends ever since.[citation needed]

MSNBC program

Main article: Donahue (2002 talk show)

In July 2002, Phil Donahue returned to television after seven years of retirement to host a show called Donahue on MSNBC.[16] On February 25, 2003, MSNBC canceled the show.[17][18] Soon after the show's cancellation, an internal MSNBC memo was leaked to the press stating that Donahue should be fired because he opposed the imminent U.S. invasion of Iraq and that he would be a "difficult public face for NBC in a time of war"[19] and that his program could be "a home for the liberal anti-war agenda".[20] Donahue commented in 2007 that the management of MSNBC, owned at the time by General Electric, a major defense contractor, required that "we have two conservative (guests) for every liberal. I was counted as two liberals".[21]

Body of War

External videos
video icon Q&A interview with Donahue on Body of War, March 23, 2008, C-SPAN

In 2006, Donahue served as co-director with independent filmmaker Ellen Spiro for the feature documentary film Body of War. The film tells the story of Tomas Young, a severely disabled Iraq War veteran and his turbulent postwar adjustments. In November 2007 the film was named as one of fifteen documentaries to be in consideration for an Oscar nomination from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.[22]

Other appearances

In June 2013, Donahue and numerous other celebrities appeared in a video showing support for Chelsea Manning.[23][24]

Donahue was interviewed for the documentary film, Finding Vivian Maier (2013), about the posthumously recognized American street photographer of that name, an acquaintance of his from the 1970s.[25]

On May 24 and May 25, 2016, Donahue spoke at Ralph Nader's "Breaking Through Power" conference,[clarification needed] at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.[26][27]


Donahue was awarded 20 Emmy Awards during his broadcasting career, 10 for Outstanding Talk Show Host, and 10 for The Phil Donahue Show. He received the Peabody Award in 1980, and was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame on November 20, 1993.[28] In 1987, he received the "Maggie" Award, highest honor of the Planned Parenthood Federation, in tribute to their founder, Margaret Sanger. In 2024, Donahue was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Joe Biden.[29]

Personal life

Donahue's 1958 marriage to Margaret Cooney produced five children—Michael, Kevin, Daniel, Mary Rose, and James—but ended in divorce in 1975.[citation needed] She returned to her native New Mexico, remarried, and retired from public view.[30] The family had lived in Centerville, Ohio, across the street from Erma Bombeck, a comedian who would become one of his contemporaries as a national voice in the 1970s and 1980s.[31] For a brief period in the 1970s, Donahue employed Vivian Maier, an American street photographer, as a nanny for his children.[25]

Donahue married actress Marlo Thomas on May 21, 1980.[32] He and Thomas do not have any children together.

In 2014, Phil Donahue's youngest son, James Donahue, died suddenly at the age of fifty-one from a ruptured aortic aneurysm.[33]

Regarding his religion, Donahue has stated: "I will always be a Catholic. But I want my church to join the human race and finally walk away from this antisexual theology".[2] He also said that he is not "a very good Catholic", and that he did not think it was necessary to have his first marriage annulled.[clarification needed][2] He has expressed admiration of Pope Francis.[34]


  1. ^ "Donahue's Last Hurrah :". Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved September 20, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Questions for Phil Donahue. By David Wallis. The New York Times. Published April 14, 2002.
  3. ^ a b "The Titans of Talk". Retrieved December 31, 2018.
  4. ^ "Special Collectors' Issue: 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time". TV Guide. No. December 14–20. 1996.
  5. ^ Timberg, Bernard M. et al. Television Talk, p.69. University of Texas Press, 2002, ISBN 0-292-78176-8
  6. ^ Manga, Julie Engel. Talking Trash: The Cultural Politics of Daytime TV Talk Shows, p.28. NYU Press, 2003, ISBN 0-8147-5683-2
  7. ^ Nimmo, Dan D.; Newsome, Chevelle (January 1, 1997). Political Commentators in the United States in the 20th Century: A Bio-critical Sourcebook. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780313295850. Retrieved September 20, 2016 – via Google Books.
  8. ^ "PHIL DONAHUE". Archive of American Television. Retrieved February 24, 2014.
  9. ^ Donahue interviews Johnny Carson in February 1970 on YouTube.
  10. ^ Dave Wendt (October 7, 2007). "Yippies For Nixon". Archived from the original on November 18, 2021. Retrieved September 20, 2016 – via YouTube.
  11. ^ Elton John on "Donahue" in 1980 on YouTube.
  12. ^ Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier on "Donahue" in 1990 on YouTube.
  13. ^ Mike Gardner (June 18, 2008). "Donahue/Pozner: Chomsky (Part One)". Archived from the original on November 18, 2021. Retrieved September 20, 2016 – via YouTube.
  14. ^ Phil Donahue: "We reached out instead of lashed out" Russia, Beyond the Headlines,, December 6, 2012.
  15. ^ "Phil Donahue | Biography, Photos, Movies, TV, Credits". Archived from the original on March 20, 2008. Retrieved December 11, 2010.
  16. ^ Sherman, Gabriel, "Chasing Fox," New York magazine, October 3, 2010.
  17. ^ Carter, Bill (February 26, 2003). "MSNBC Cancels the Phil Donahue Talk Show". The New York Times. Retrieved December 28, 2016.
  18. ^ Collins, Dan (February 25, 2003). "Phil Donahue Gets The Ax". CBS News. Associated Press. Retrieved December 28, 2016.
  19. ^ Poniewozik, James, "In the Obama Era, Will the Media Change Too?" Time, January 15, 2009.
  20. ^ Naureckas, Jim "MSNBC’s Racism Is OK, Peace Activism Is Not" FAIR, April 1, 2003.
  21. ^ Poniewozik, James, "Watching the Not-Watchdogs,"Time, April 26, 2007.
  22. ^ Melidonian, Teni. 15 Docs Move Ahead in 2007 Oscar Race Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences official website. 2007-11-19. Retrieved on December 3, 2007.
  23. ^ "Celeb video: 'I am Bradley Manning'". June 19, 2013. Retrieved September 20, 2016.
  24. ^ I am Bradley Manning (June 18, 2013). "I am Bradley Manning (full HD)". Archived from the original on November 18, 2021. Retrieved September 20, 2016 – via YouTube.
  25. ^ a b Maloof, John (Director), Siskel, Charlie (Director) (September 9, 2013). Finding Vivian Maier (Motion picture).
  26. ^ "Breaking Through Power". Retrieved May 28, 2016.
  27. ^ Breaking Through Power Day 2. YouTube. Archived from the original on December 11, 2021.
  28. ^ "Phil Donahue". Television Academy. Retrieved October 23, 2019.
  29. ^ "President Biden Announces Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom". The White House. May 3, 2024. Retrieved May 3, 2024.
  30. ^ "The Washington Post | Donahue's Dilemma". The Washington Post.
  31. ^ Dayton, University of. "National Spotlight Falls on Erma Bombeck:, Podcasts Interview Family, Phil Donahue and Writers".
  32. ^ Ravo, Nick, "Eyesore or Landmark? The House Donahue Razed", The New York Times, July 10, 1988
  33. ^ Moss, Meredith (August 11, 2014). "James "Jim" Patrick Donahue, son of TV's Phil Donahue, dies at 51". Dayton Daily News. Retrieved December 4, 2021.
  34. ^ Tippett, Krista (December 12, 2013). "Phil Donahue: Transformation, On-Screen and Off". On Being Project.

Further reading