Liam Nolan takes a look back on the life and career of Irish-American Ed Sullivan who became the God of Sunday night TV, as we reach 50 years since the last episode of the famous show aired, in June 1971


They said some scurrilous things about Ed Sullivan, like that he was “as stiff and graceless as an undertaker”. Fred Allen, one of the most popular comedians of the Golden Age of American radio, said that what Ed Sullivan did “could be done by a pointer dog – if meat were rubbed on the performers.” And Joe E. Lewis, king comedian of the nightclub circuit, said Ed Sullivan was “a man who could brighten a room simply by leaving it”.

So who exactly was this Ed Sullivan? What did he do, this target of so many put downs and insults?

He was acknowledged as television’s king of variety. An incomplete description would be: America’s first successful network television variety show host. But he was much more than just that. And as far as fame as was concerned, he was colossal; national recognition was what he wanted most out of life.

At eight o’clock, every Sunday night, 45 to 50 million people tuned in to watch The Ed Sullivan Show on CBS Television. It was a parade of top talent that cost $8,000,000 a year to produce.

For all the snide comments and smartass put-downs, the late Ed Sullivan is still a dominant figure in American television history, a stone-faced Master of Ceremonies who was clumsy, forgetful, self-conscious, bashful and tongue-tied. He was honestly ill at ease, and frequently got his words wrong.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own