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Bobby Rivers, Witty VH1 Host, Dies at 70

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Bobby Rivers, an affable and playful television host, entertainment reporter and film critic, died on Tuesday in Minneapolis. He was 70.

The cause was complications of cancer, said his brother, Tony. He died in a hospital.

Bobby Rivers got his start on television on “Good Morning Milwaukee” in 1979. “That was huge,” his brother said in an interview. “It was a wonderful springboard for him. People got to see his talent, his wit, his humor, his ability to turn a phrase, and I think that blew people away.”

He moved to national TV in the early days of the VH1 cable music channel, where he had his own talk show, “Watch Bobby Rivers.”

That show was hailed by the critic Stephen Holden in The New York Times. “Mr. Rivers is a disarmingly sweet, quirky personality who exudes a benign sense of mischief as he joshes with stars,” Mr. Holden wrote in 1988. “A nerdy, post-collegiate Eddie Murphy with no axes to grind, he is a master interviewer with a gift for light, impromptu banter.”

Mr. Rivers’s interview style was friendly, and he always seemed to be joking with his guests. But that didn’t prevent him from bringing up tough subjects, and his amiability could draw out revealing responses. In the late 1980s, for instance, he called Norman Mailer to account for sexism with such a big smile that Mailer almost didn’t notice.

In the 1990s he became an entertainment reporter for local stations in New York, appearing on “Weekend Today in New York” on WNBC and “Good Day New York” on WNYW.

In the 2000s, he hosted “Top 5,” a food-oriented variation on Top 40 countdown shows, on the Food Network. He also worked on radio and as a film critic on “Lifetime Live.”

“Bobby was more than just a TV personality,” the actor and writer Gregory G. Allen, who had interviewed Mr. Rivers and was working on a book with him, wrote on Facebook. He was, Mr. Allen said, a “walking encyclopedia” of film and television.

At times, though, his many talents helped hold him back, his brother said: “I don’t think managers or producers exactly knew what to do with him. ‘You’re a master of many things, so how do we use you?’”

“He had so much,” he added, “and for anyone to say ‘We just want this,’ it’s like clipping his wings.”

Robert Bennett Rivers Jr. was born on Sept. 20, 1953, in Los Angeles, to Robert Bennett Rivers and Barbara Theresa Rivers. He grew up in South-Central Los Angeles and graduated from Marquette University.

He had a love of classic entertainment from an early age. “We would sit in front of the TV and watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers,” Tony Rivers said.

Starting in 2011, he wrote a blog, Bobby Rivers TV, about movies and entertainment. His final post there, on Nov. 19, was a rave about “Rustin,” the film about the civil rights leader Bayard Rustin.

“I am admittedly old enough to recall being a little boy and watching the March on Washington with my parents when it was a live telecast on CBS,” Mr. Rivers wrote. “I remember seeing tall, slim Bayard Rustin with his salt and pepper hair and wearing horn-rimmed glasses speak forcefully and passionately and then stand behind Dr. King.”

“For all his achievements and contributions, Rustin had been pushed into the shadows because of his sexuality,” he added. “Back in July 2020, I blogged a post about our need for a Bayard Rustin biopic. Well … now we have one. And it was worth waiting for.”

Mr. Rivers, who himself was Black and gay, was not always welcomed in the industry.

“A Black gay man was not something they knew what to do with,” Gino Salomone, a friend and former colleague, told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

In the wake of his death, Whoopi Goldberg hailed Mr. Rivers on social media as a “pioneer” who “brought SO much to the table.”

Despite the obstacles he faced, Tony Rivers said, “He was very proud about who he was, and people respected that.”

Mr. Rivers never married or had children. In addition to his brother, he is survived by a sister, Betsy Rivers, and a cousin, Alonzo Brooks.

John Yoon contributed reporting.

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