LOS ANGELES - Art Linkletter, 97, who as the gently mischievous host of TV's People Are Funny and House Party in the 1950s and '60s delighted viewers with his ability to get kids - and grownups - to say the darndest things on national television, died Wednesday.
His son-in-law Art Hershey said Mr. Linkletter died at his home in the Bel-Air section of Los Angeles.
Mr. Linkletter had been ill "in the last few weeks' time," Hershey said, "but bear in mind he was 97 years old. He wasn't eating well, and the aging process took him."
Mr. Linkletter had not been diagnosed with any life-threatening disease, Hershey said.
Art Linkletter's House Party, one of television's longest-running variety shows, began on radio in 1944 and was seen on CBS-TV from 1952 to 1969.
Though it had many features, the best known was the daily interviews with schoolchildren.
Mr. Linkletter collected sayings from the children into Kids Say the Darndest Things, and it sold in the millions. The book 70 Years of Best Sellers 1895-1965 ranked Kids Say the Darndest Things as the 15th top seller among nonfiction books in that period.
The prime-time People Are Funny, which began on radio in 1942 and ran on TV from 1954 to 1961, emphasized slapstick humor and audience participation - things like throwing a pie in the face of a contestant who couldn't tell his Social Security number in five seconds.
The down-to-earth charm of his broadcast persona seemed to be mirrored by his private life with his wife of more than a half-century, Lois. They had five children, whom he wrote about in his books and called the "Links."
In 1969, his 20-year-old daughter, Diane, jumped to her death from her sixth-floor Hollywood apartment. He blamed her death on LSD use, but toxicology tests found no LSD in her body.
Still, the tragedy prompted him to become a crusader against drugs. A son, Robert, died in a car accident in 1980. Another son, Jack, was 70 when he died of lymphoma in 2007.
Art Linkletter got his first taste of broadcasting with a part-time job while at San Diego State College in the early 1930s. He graduated in 1934.
"I was studying to be an English professor," he once said. "But as they say, life is what happens to you while you're making other plans."
He held a series of radio and promotion jobs in California and Texas, experimenting with audience participation and remote broadcasts, before forming his own production company in the 1940s and striking it big with People Are Funny and House Party.
Mr. Linkletter was born Arthur Gordon Kelly on July 17, 1912, in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. His unwed mother put him up for adoption when he was a baby; when he was about 7, he and his adoptive parents moved to the United States, eventually settling in San Diego.
He recalled his preacher-father forced him to take odd jobs to help the family. So Mr. Linkletter left and became a hobo, hopping trains across the West, working where he could. He recalled later that he felt the religious faith instilled by his father had been a great gift.
After leaving daily broadcasting in 1969, Mr. Linkletter continued to write, lecture, and appear in television commercials.
"Life is not fair . . . not easy," he said in a 1990 interview with the Associated Press.
". . . Even though I've had tragedies in my life, and I've seen a lot of difficult things, I still am an optimist."
Mr. Linkletter is survived by his wife, whom he married in 1935, and daughters Dawn and Sharon.