Car Talk’s Tom Magliozzi died at 77 on Monday, of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. Magliozzi—a former college professor with a booming laugh and an undergraduate degree from MIT—was co-host of the long-running NPR favorite and the elder brother in the famous duo Click and Clack. Despite his white-collar education and erudition, Magliozzi spent 25 years (from 1987 until the series ended in 2012) exuding blue-collar relatability as he walked callers through their automotive predicaments on air.* “Tom’s been such a dominant, positive personality amongst us for so long that all of us in the public radio family—and I include our millions of listeners—will find this news very difficult to receive,” NPR’s Doug Berman said in a statement.
In a remembrance for NPR, Lynn Neary recounted how Magliozzi was working as an engineer when an almost-fatal collision with a tractor trailer brought him to the edge of epiphany:
"I quit my job," [Magliozzi told graduate students at MIT during a 1999 commencement speech]. "I became a bum. I spent two years sitting in Harvard Square drinking coffee. I invented the concept of the do-it-yourself auto repair shop, and I met my lovely wife."
Not only did Magliozzi dream up the concept of the DIY auto repair shop, but he opened two of them with his brother, Ray. (Per the trademark Magliozzi affability/charm, the operations were called Hackers Heaven and Good News Garage.) The radio deal came several years later, when a local station contacted Ray about appearing on a talk show episode about mechanics, Ray sent Tom in his stead, and no one else showed up at the studio.
“Car Talk,” wrote Farhad Manjoo in 2012, “sometimes feels like the last honest bit of entertainment left in the world.” In New York magazine, Noreen Malone praised the show’s “baseline romantic hopefulness,” its premise that “a five-minute conversation in which you and a stranger attempted to replicate the weird noises your carburetor was making could actually lead to something getting better about your life.”
Magliozzi will be sorely missed by harried commuters who, listening to Car Talk, took solace in the fact that at least their gridlocked vehicles did not seem to have leaking axle clamps. And he’ll be missed by the now 20- and 30-year-old kids who grew to love him while being force-fed NPR in the backseat.
*Correction, Nov. 3, 2014: This post originally stated that Car Talk launched in 1977. The show launched locally in 1977 and nationally in 1987, after which it had a 25 year run on NPR.