David Horowitz, whose syndicated consumer affairs television show, “Fight Back!” made him a national fixture, and who was once briefly taken hostage while live on the air, died Feb. 14 in Los Angeles. He was 81.
A statement from his family said the cause was complications of dementia.
Thanks to “Fight Back! With David Horowitz,” Horowitz was for many years perhaps the most recognizable consumer affairs reporter in the United States — so much so that Johnny Carson created a caricature of him. The show made its national debut in 1976, growing out of a local consumer show he had on KNBC in Los Angeles.
Horowitz’s main technique was to assess whether a product’s or service’s claims were accurate. The Associated Press once called him “a video Don Quixote who makes dishonest advertisers squirm.” He did it with a telegenic ease that was deliberate.
“It’s not a news program, it’s not really a public affairs program,” he told the AP in 1981. “It’s an informational entertainment show.”
But there was nothing lighthearted about a moment in 1987, when, as he was doing a segment on KNBC, a mentally disturbed man got into the studio, stuck a gun in his back and demanded that he read a screed involving the CIA and UFOs.
Horowitz calmly did so as technicians in the control room took the show off the air. At the end of the reading the man set down the weapon, which was an unloaded BB gun.
“People later told me how calm I looked,” Horowitz said afterward, “but believe me, I wasn’t.”
He went on to campaign against toy guys that looked like the real thing. Bans on such toys were later approved in Los Angeles and elsewhere.
David Charles Horowitz was born on June 30, 1937, in the Bronx, New York. His father, Max, was a builder, and his mother, Dora (Lippman) Horowitz, was a homemaker. Both parents were immigrants, something that influenced his later career.
“They came here from Europe and didn’t speak the language well,” he told The Chicago Tribune in 1987. “People took advantage of them.”
Horowitz earned a bachelor’s degree from Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, and, in 1961, a master’s in journalism from Northwestern University. He was in the Navy Reserve for a number of years.
After receiving his master’s, he held a series of journalism jobs, including covering Vietnam for NBC, before first tackling the consumer beat in 1973. His consumer segments were soon running twice a week in Los Angeles.
As “Fight Back!” spread nationally, Horowitz was frequently a guest on “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson,” and Carson, in a loopy homage, developed a recurring character, David Howitzer, parodying Horowitz’s style.
Horowitz was also a guest correspondent on “Today” for eight years and had a “Fight Back!” radio show and a syndicated newspaper column.
When KNBC did not renew his contract in 1992, he continued to do consumer segments for a time on a competing Los Angeles station, KCBS. In 2001 he started fightback.com, where, for a fee, he would write to companies on behalf of aggrieved consumers.
In 1973 Horowitz married Suzanne McCambridge. She survives him, as do two daughters, Amanda and Tori, and two grandchildren.
Horowitz became so well known during the run of his TV series that, he said, it would take him hours to do his grocery shopping because of all the advice seekers.
“People come up to me like I’m a public institution,” he told the AP in 1981. “They expect me to be an expert on everything from toilet paper to theater tickets to food products.”