Born in Yorkshire in northern England, he left school at the age of 16 with dreams of becoming a professional cricketer before turning to local newspaper journalism. After moving into current affairs television in the late 1960s, he was given his own prime-time chat show ‘Parkinson‘ by the BBC in 1971.
“Michael was the king of the chat show and he defined the format for all the presenters and shows that followed,” said BBC Director General Tim Davie.
“He interviewed the biggest stars of the 20th century and did so in a way that enthralled the public. Michael was not only brilliant at asking questions, he was also a wonderful listener.”
Parkinson, who became affectionately known as ‘Parky’, estimated he had interviewed more than 2,000 guests in total, with the most high-profile including Muhammad Ali, Elton John, John Lennon and Madonna.
“He was the greatest interviewer of our age who owned Saturday night TV for year after year,” BBC journalist Nick Robinson said in a post on messaging platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
Parkinson was also known for two uncomfortable interviews with actors Helen Mirren and Meg Ryan. With Mirren he was accused of sexism after he asked if her “physical attributes” had hindered her career and whether her figure could detract from her performance.
With Ryan, the two engaged in a frosty, terse interview before Ryan told him to “wrap it up”. Parkinson later said he regretted getting angry with the actress.
In 2013 Parkinson revealed he was receiving radiotherapy treatment for prostate cancer, but got the all-clear from doctors two years later.
“After a brief illness Sir Michael Parkinson passed away peacefully at home last night in the company of his family,” a family statement said.