Morton Downey Jr. Faces a Terrible Fate: Silence
updated 08/07/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 08/07/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT
Yet only weeks after its debut, The Morton Downey Jr. Show was a certified hit, recognized even by its critics as the lip-flapping flagship in a late-'80s parade of down-and-dirty, confrontational TV. And for more than a year, Downey, 56, rode that wave of public rage, playing the lout for the cameras but keeping a cap-toothed, smiling distance from his Mad Mort persona.
Things started slipping early this year. With the initial shock value gone, his ratings began to slide. He filed for divorce from third wife Kim Cotton and became engaged to Lori Krebs. The final stumble that caused his fall from the peaks of public fascination came April 24, when Downey announced he had been attacked in a San Francisco airport bathroom by a roving band of neo-Nazi skinheads intent on crayoning swastikas on his face. Police didn't buy the story—despite Mort's eager display of his oddly decorated skull. The skepticism hurt Downey, who had already promised station managers he would tone things down. Advertisers continued to yank their support, and on July 19 Quantum Media Inc., which produces the show, and MCA-TV, its distributor, announced they will be canceling Mort's gig Sept. 15.
By now even Downey realized his offscreen antics had undermined his credibility. "I think I must have looked like one paranoid man totally out of control with my personal life," he said. "I stepped into my own manure."
Others took a more expansive view of Downey's downfall. "He was the first victim of advertisers' overreaction to special interest groups," said his show's executive producer, Bill Boggs. "But he will learn from this experience and come back better."
For better or worse, Downey plans to come back. He has announced he will produce (at his own expense) five TV specials that will show "a new, less abrasive side." He has also vowed a kinder, gentler Mort will serve as spokesperson for a syndicated radio spot called America's Listening. If that turn of the image doesn't do the trick, he claims he has signed to star in a prime-time sitcom about a country singer with three daughters.
Okay, okay, so he never acted before. As Mort might so winningly put it, "YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?"