07/07/1998 AT 12:00 AM EDT
Funnyman Steve Allen, who was the irreverent host of the original "Tonight Show" when it premiered in 1954, has died at the age of 78. He died of an apparent heart attack Monday night at the Encino, Calif., home of his son, Bill Allen. "He said he was a little tired after dinner," the younger Allen told the Associated Press. "He went to relax, peacefully, and never reawakened." Allen, the famously bespectacled entertainer known for his droll and dry wit, dabbled in just about every genre of the entertainment world. He starred as Benny Goodman in a 1955 biopic of the Swing King, appeared in several Broadway shows, had his own TV variety show, wrote more than 4,000 songs and 49 books (including 1997's "Die Laughing") and, in recent years, became a vocal critic of sex and violence on television. A talented pianist who got his show business start as a radio announcer, Allen is survived by Jayne Meadows, his wife of 46 years.