LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Jimmy O’Neill, who was barely out of his teens when he became Los Angeles’ top-rated radio deejay and only 24 when he became a national celebrity as host of “Shindig!,” one of the earliest rock ‘n’ roll shows on prime-time television, has died. He was 73.
O’Neill had diabetes and heart problems, his son, James O’Neill, told the Los Angeles Times. He died Friday at his West Hollywood home, according the newspaper.
In 1959, O’Neill made radio history as the first voice heard on KRLA-AM (1110) when it dropped its country-western format for rock music, The Times reported. It quickly became a powerhouse in rock radio and launched O’Neill into television in 1964 as the winsome emcee of “Shindig!”
Compared with “American Bandstand,” Dick Clark’s afternoon music-and- dance show for teenagers, “Shindig!” was a blast of hot air that featured frenetic dancers and mingled black and white musicians in an era when much of the country was still segregated. Each episode showcased a dozen of the biggest names in pop music, such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Sam Cooke, Chuck Berry, Tina Turner, the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones.
“It was a phenomenal experience,” Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers, who performed on the first telecast of “Shindig!” told The Times.
O’Neill, who was born Jan. 8, 1940, in Enid, Okla., was married three times and is survived by his son, a daughter, two stepchildren, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, according to The Times. No funeral plans were immediately announced.
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