Michael Nicholas Salvatore Bongiorno (Italian pronunciation: [bɔnˈʤorːno]; New York, May 26, 1924 – Monte Carlo, September 8, 2009), known as Mike Bongiorno, was an American-born Italian television host. After a few experiences in the US, he started working on Italian TV in the 1950s and was considered to be the most popular host in Italy. He was also known by the nickname il Re del Quiz (The Quiz King), and the peculiarity of starting all his shows with his trademark greeting: Allegria! (Cheers!).
Bongiorno was born in New York City, but moved to Turin (his mother's native city), when he was young. His father was a Sicilian American lawyer. During World War II Mike abandoned his studies and joined a group of Italian partisans. He was captured and spent seven months in the San Vittore prison in Milan and was then deported to a German concentration camp. He was liberated before the end of the war due to a prisoners of war exchange between the United States and Germany. He returned to New York and in 1946 started work at the radio headquarters of Il Progresso Italo-Americano (The Italian-American Progress) newspaper.
Bongiorno returned to Italy in 1953. He appeared in the program Arrivi e partenze (Arrivals and Departures) on the TV channel RAI on the very first day of official public TV transmissions in Italy. From 1955 to 1959 he hosted the quiz show Lascia o raddoppia?, the Italian version of USA's The $64,000 Question. This was the first successful quiz show on Italian TV, and became one of the most famous Italian TV programs ever.
Another successful program was Campanile Sera (Bell Tower Evening, 1959–1962), in which a southern Italian town and a northern one challenged each other with questions made to representatives of the two towns who were present in the studio and practical games played by citizens situated at the same towns.
In 1963 Umberto Eco wrote an essay entitled Fenomenologia di Mike Bongiorno in which he used advanced academic theories to shed light on Mike Bongiorno and his way of communicating. Eco held that Mike Bongiorno was so good at portraying himself as no better than average in every respect, that 100% of his audience could feel good about themselves.
Beginning in 1963, he hosted the first of eleven editions of the Sanremo Festival. Then he hosted the quiz programs Caccia al numero (Number Hunting, 1962), La Fiera dei Sogni (Dream Fair, 1962–1965) and Giochi in Famiglia (Games in Family, 1966–1969). But the greatest success came with the quiz program Rischiatutto (1970–1974), an adapted Italian version of Jeopardy!, with 20 to 30 million watchers every Thursday night, the highest audience in the history of Italian TV. Other programs hosted by Bongiorno were the news talk show Ieri e Oggi (Yesterday and Today, 1976) and the quiz programs Scommettiamo? (Wanna Bet?, 1976–1978), inspired by horse-racing, and a remake of Lascia o raddoppia? in 1979.
He moved to Tele Milano (now Canale 5), one of the first Italian commercial TV channels owned by Mediaset, the media company founded by Silvio Berlusconi, to host I sogni nel cassetto (The dreams, literally "The dreams in the drawer", 1979–1980). After a brief return to RAI with the news-game Flash (1980–1982), he continued working for Mediaset quiz programmes Bis (1981–1990), Superflash (1982–1985), Pentathlon (1985–1987), Telemike (1987–1992), Tris (1990–1991), the math game Tutti per uno (All for one, 1992) and from 1989 to 2003 La ruota della fortuna (Wheel of Fortune).
From 1991 to 2001 he hosted Bravo, Bravissimo, a festival featuring preteen musicians, dancers and singers from all over the world. He won 24 Telegatto, the Italian TV prize.
Until 2005 he hosted Genius on Rete 4, an afternoon quiz show aimed at 12 to 14 year-olds. In 2006 and 2007 he hosted the prime-time quiz show Il Migliore (The Best) on Rete 4. More recently, he was also a guest of the second episode of the Gianfranco Funari's show Apocalypse Show on Rai 1. On December 13, 2007, Mike Bongiorno was awarded an honorary degree Honoris Causa by IULM University of Milan. On 26 March 2009 Bongiorno signed for SKY Italia after Mediaset decided not to renew his contract, where he planned to host a new game show on SKY Uno called RiSKYtutto (a modern edition of his popular show Rischiatutto), which had been scheduled to air in the autumn of 2009.
On September 8, 2009, at the age of 85, Mike Bongiorno died of a heart attack, while leaving Metropole Hotel in Monte Carlo after a short holiday with his wife Daniela. His body lay in repose for a few days at the Triennale in Milan before a state funeral was held in the Milan Cathedral on September 12, 2009. Many Italian TV stars such as Rosario Fiorello, Pippo Baudo, Fabio Fazio, Sandra Mondaini, Alba Parietti, Paola Barale, Carlo Conti, Gerry Scotti, Marco Columbro and several other entertainers attended the service which was held by bishop Erminio De Scalzi. Bongiorno was buried in the family tomb, at Dagnente Cemetery, near Arona. On January 25, 2011, the tomb was ransacked and his body, along with the coffin, was stolen. On Thursday, December 8, 2011, Mike Bongiorno's body was recovered from a field near Milan.
Honours and awards
In 1996 he was made a Commander of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus by Vittorio Emanuele, Prince of Naples, the last Crown Prince of the former Kingdom of Italy, and Head of the House of Savoy.
- 1984 Telegatto - Best TV quiz, for presenting television quiz "Superflash" on Canale 5
- 1985 Telegatto - Best TV quiz, for presenting television quiz "Superflash" on Canale 5
- 1986 Telegatto - Best TV quiz, for presenting television quiz "Superflash" on Canale 5
- 1987 Telegatto - Best TV quiz, for presenting television game show "Pentathlon" on Canale 5
- 1988 Telegatto - Best TV quiz, for presenting television game quiz "Telemike" on Canale 5
- 1989 Telegatto - Best TV quiz, for presenting television game quiz "Telemike" on Canale 5
- 1990 Telegatto - Best TV quiz, for presenting television game quiz "Telemike" on Canale 5
- 1991 Telegatto - Best TV quiz, for presenting television game quiz "Telemike" on Canale 5
- 1992 Telegatto - Best quiz and game shows, presenting "La Ruota Della Fortuna", the Italian version of Wheel of Fortune
- 1993 Telegatto - Best quiz and game shows, presenting "La Ruota Della Fortuna", the Italian version of Wheel of Fortune
- 1994 Telegatto - Best quiz and game shows, presenting "La Ruota Della Fortuna", the Italian version of Wheel of Fortune
- 1995 Telegatto - Best quiz and game shows, presenting "La Ruota Della Fortuna", the Italian version of Wheel of Fortune
- 1996 Telegatto platinum, for a lifelong career (for the 50-year career in television)
- 1997 Telegatto - Best Music Program, for hosting "Festival della canzone italiana"
- 2003 Telegatto - What's on TV, for hosting "Grand Prix International TV"
- 2006 Telegatto platinum, for a lifelong career
- 2008 Premio Club Santa Chiara, for a lifelong career
- 2011 Premio America of the Italy-USA Foundation in memory
- Xuereb, Charles. "'A personality that shaped TV entertainment for decades'". Times of Malta. Retrieved 2009-09-10.
- "Laurea Magistrale Honoris Causa in Televisione, cinema e produzione multimediale a Mike Bongiorno" (in Italian). IULM University. Retrieved 2009-09-09.
- "Arona, trafugata la bara di Mike Bongiorno" (in Italian). Retrieved 2011-01-25.
- "ONORIFICENZE - Dettaglio del decorato" (in Italian). Retrieved 2009-09-10.[dead link]