The cause of death of Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osbourne has not yet been released to the public, but Golden Age cinema fans around the world are already mourning the passing of the man whose brief introductions to some of history’s greatest films will forever be inextricably linked to their memories of them. He was 84-years-old.
— TCM (@tcm) March 6, 2017
Though any information about the cause was absent, Robert’s death was announced on TCM on March 6. Osborne had served as the channel’s host since April 1994 — providing the introduction to hundreds of thousands of movies over nearly three decades as television went from cable to satellite to digital.
Robert started out his career as a contract actor working for Desilu Studios, owned by actor and actress pair Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. He would often joke that Ball would encourage him to go into writing about film “after seeing him act.”
— Nathalie Atkinson (@NathAt) March 6, 2017
It is quite possible that no more information will be revealed about his cause of death as Robert Osborne himself was an extremely private man. No information was ever shared about him being married, and some assumed him to be gay, enough so that rumors circulated to the effect for years. The Turner Classic Movies host himself never felt the need to come forward to officially dispel such rumors.
From his attitude toward closeted gay men in Hollywood, even in the cutthroat world of entertainment reporting, it seems unlikely that Robert would have felt that such information was pertinent if he was. When it was revealed that Rock Hudson’s cause of death was AIDS, Osborne refused to report on his friend’s death.
“You’re a reporter, you need to tell that story. No, I don’t. He’s not the president. He’s not a government official. He’s an actor. He has a right to choreograph his own life.”
Serving a diminished role at TCM in his last year, Robert was in and out of the hospital for an undisclosed illness which may or may not have been linked to his cause of death. Osborne did not attend the TCM Classic Film Festival for either of the last two years, sharing a statement when he announced he would not be attending in August 2016.
“As that old saying goes, ‘Life is what’s happening while you’re making other plans.’ A health issue has come up which requires attention, so I’ll be taking time off to focus on that and enjoy some vacation time. I know you’re in good hands.”
Above all, Robert was motivated by a love of cinema that started when he was raised in small rural town Colfax, Washington. He would go on to become friends with many of the people he saw on the screen there. In his final interview, given to CBS News just last week, Osborne remarked on the importance of escapism at the movies.
“I think we have to have dreams. We need a little Carmen Miranda with all her tutti frutti hats. And we need some Fred and Ginger dancing. We need Gene Kelly hanging off that lamppost. We need to be taken into a fantasy world, and not be afraid to go there occasionally.”
Robert was committed to preserving the historical importance of certain films, even when they ventured into controversial territory. Osborne once told The AV Club that he took great pains to bring on African-American historians to discuss the cause of movies like Birth of a Nation — an openly racist 1918 silent epic — instead of censoring them outright, something that he thought was effective in getting people to understand why it was important to leave such pieces of cinema fully intact.
“Early on I think we used to get some squawk whenever we’d show a movie that Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland did which has a musical number in blackface. Some people used to write and say, ‘How did you dare show that? That’s so awful.’ I think now people realize that we don’t cut our movies, and that’s the way those movies were made and what was acceptable to people at one time. But we’re not saying that’s what is acceptable to people now.”
Robert Osborne was also an accomplished author with several books to his name about the history of the Academy Awards.
As such a private person, close friends of Robert Osborne are unlikely to reveal a cause of death, but such details seem minor for a man whose life was really just about one thing: The movies.
[Featured Image by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images]