TV loses a legend, with Monty Hall's death at 96

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP)- Monty Hall, the genial TV game show host whose long-running "Let's Make a Deal" traded on love of money and merchandise and the mystery of which door had the car behind it, has died. He was 96.

Hall died Saturday morning of heart failure at his home in Beverly Hills, according to his daughter, Sharon Hall. Actress Joanna Gleason is also one of Hall's daughters mourning his loss.

"Let's Make a Deal," was co-created by Hall, who was born in Canada as Morton Halperan, in Winnipeg, Canada. LMAD debuted as a daytime show on NBC in 1963 and became a TV staple. Through the next four decades, it also aired in daytime and prime time on all 3 networks, with healthy, popular runs in syndication and, in two brief outings, with hosts other than Hall at the helm. Wayne Brady hosts the current version on CBS-TV, where is still remains a hit.

Monty even starred in a famous episode of "The Odd Couple" featured Felix Unger (Tony Randall) and Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman) as bickering guests in a front and back horse costume to appear on Hall's program.

Contestants were chosen from the studio audience — outlandishly dressed as animals, clowns or cartoon characters to attract the host's attention — and would start the game by trading an item of their own for a prize. After that, it was a matter of swapping the prize in hand for others hidden behind doors, curtains or in boxes, presided over by the leggy, smiling Carol Merrill.

The query "Do you want Door No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3?" became a popular catchphrase and the chance of winning a new car a matter of primal urgency. Prizes could be a car or a mink coat or a worthless item dubbed a "zonk."

The energetic, quick-thinking Hall, a sight himself with his sideburns and colorful sports coats, was deemed the perfect host in Alex McNeil's reference book, "Total Television."

When news hit Twitter, Hall's fans and supporters were quick to share their condolences.

"Monty kept the show moving while he treated the outrageously garbed and occasionally greedy contestants courteously; it is hard to imagine anyone else but Hall working the trading area as smoothly," McNeil wrote.

For Hall, the interaction was easy.

"I'm a people person," he said on the PBS documentary series "Pioneers of Television." ''And so I don't care if they jump on me, and I don't care if they yell and they fainted — those are my people."

The game show gave rise to an academic exercise in which students are asked to weigh this question: In guessing which of three doors might conceal a prize car, and after one is eliminated as a possibility, should you switch your choice to the one you didn't pick?

The puzzle sparked heated exchanges in Marilyn vos Savant's Parade magazine column. (The answer to the Monty Hall Problem, Hall and others said, was yes, take the switch — but only if the contest is set up so the host cannot skew the results by offering some guests the chance to switch doors and not giving others the same option.)

After five years on NBC, "Let's Make a Deal" moved to ABC in 1968 and aired on the network through 1976, including prime-time stints. It went into syndication in the 1970s and 1980s, returning to NBC in 1990-91 and again in 2003.

With the wealth that the game show brought him, Monty Hall made philanthropy and fundraising his avocation. He spent 200 days a year pressing the fles for his favorite charities, estimating in the late 1990s that he had coaxed $700 million from donors.

His daughter Sharon estimated that Hall managed to raise nearly $1 billion for charity over his lifetime.

Hall and his wife, Marilyn Plottel, married in 1947. She died just this past summer.

In addition to his daughters, Hall is survived by his son, Richard; a brother, Robert Hall of Toronto, Canada, and five grandchildren.