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Jay Severin, conservative talk show host, dies at 69

Jay Severin in 2009.
Jay Severin in 2009.Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

Jay Severin, a conservative radio talk show host who was no stranger to controversy, died Tuesday at age 69, according to his wife, Renee.

Mr. Severin, who was living in Ipswich, suffered a massive stroke late Tuesday afternoon and died that evening at Beverly Hospital with his wife and daughter, Jane, with him, she said.

“We told him we loved him, and were very sad he was leaving us,” his wife said. “Both Jane and I think that he heard us — somehow — at least, we hope.”

She said the couple married in 1997, at the Old Whaler’s Church in Sag Harbor, N.Y.. with their three Newfoundland dogs preceding them down the aisle.

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The two had been together since 1990. “It was love at first sight,” she said.

Mr. Severin’s attorney, George Tobia, said his client had battled cancer but was cancer-free.

“I kept that optimism for him, that he’d get healthy and launch a show again,” Tobia said.

Renee said that “after nine grueling months of chemo and radiation, Jay was declared cancer-free three weeks ago.”

Mr. Severin made a name for himself as a right-wing shock jock.

He worked at WTKK-FM, at WXKS-AM, and most recently at TheBlaze Radio Network.

“What’s fascinating to me is the number of people who say, ‘I became a conservative because of Jay Severin,‘ “ Michael Graham, Mr. Severin’s former colleague at WTKK told TheBlaze, “That’s his legacy — his civics lesson on the air, that nobody can take away from him.”

Conservative political commentator Glenn Beck, cofounder of Blaze Media, told TheBlaze that Mr. Severin “was one of the rare talents that could not only see beyond the headline, but had the empathy to understand how it affected the listener. He was a good man, and I’m a better one for having known him.”

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Jimi Carter, Mr. Severin’s longtime producer and friend, said he did some Sunday night shows on North Shore 104.9 FM in February and March of this year, and was supposed to do more.

“We brought him out of retirement,” Carter said in a phone interview Friday.

Carter said Mr. Severin will be remembered for the “passion that he had for being on the radio.”

“He loved his audience,” said Carter. “He certainly stirred people up, whether you liked him or you didn’t like him. That’s what a good talk show host does. He was informative and entertaining ... and he certainly made an impact.”

Carter said he didn’t think of Mr. Severin as a shock jock, because that label “diminishes the intellect he possessed.”

“I know some people didn’t like him, but they didn’t know him,” said Carter. “Off the air, he was one of the sweetest guys. He loved his family, he loved his friends.”

Tobia said he received a text message from Mr. Severin on June 25 saying that he was excited to get back on the air.

“Received overall good news from surgeon today: prognosis remains exceptionally strong and that means a go ahead for my massive radio show as soon as this Sunday,” Mr. Severin wrote.

That was the last time Tobia heard from Mr. Severin.

Mr. Severin had posted about his health issues on his Twitter account where fans of his started offering both their sympathies and their thanks for his famously ferocious views on a wide range of social and political issues.

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A self-described libertarian and “rock ‘n’ roll Republican,‘' Mr. Severin shared provocative comments that resulted in high ratings at one point, and a salary of close to $1 million per year. But those comments got him in trouble, too.

Mr. Severin was the host of a show called “Extreme Games” on 96.9 FM, then known by the call sign WTKK.

In 2009, WTKK suspended him after he made derogatory comments about Mexican immigrants. In 2011, he was suspended again after he defended the idea of a boss sleeping with female employees and boasted that he’d done it himself “because I could.‘' After that suspension, he was fired.

Greater Media Inc., which owned WTKK at the time, said Mr. Severin was fired because he failed to maintain an “appropriate level of civility and adhere to a standard that respects our listeners and the public at large. Unfortunately, it had become clear at several points in the past two years that Jay was either unwilling or unable to maintain our standards on the air.‘'

Former Globe staff reporter Mark Jurkowitz once described Mr. Severin’s success on the airwaves as “balancing a set of apparent contradictions.”

“He is a stream-of-consciousness talker actually following a savvy script,” Jurkowitz wrote in a March 2001 Globe profile. “He cultivates a younger, hipper audience, but shuns the modern trappings of FM ‘hot talk’ — there’s no shtick, no sidekicks, no guests. And he’s a sex-drugs-and-rock ‘n’ roll baby boomer who once eulogized Abbie Hoffman, but who now holds liberalism in utter disdain.”

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In that same profile, Mr. Severin spoke of the effort that he put into all of his shows.

“I try to be Terry O’Reilly,” he said referring to the Boston Bruins great. “I have to go out and skate hard on every shift.”

Todd Tanger, president of North Shore 104.9 FM, said there was another side to Mr. Severin that the public did not see.

“Most people did not know the man off-air,” said Tanger. “Jay was a remarkable caring and loving person to his family and friends, and loved the ocean and his dogs. Jay had a great love of life and we hope his family finds his good memories to be a blessing.”

Tom Shattuck, senior editor at the Lowell Sun, posted a tribute to Mr. Severin on Twitter and described him as the “Boston talk titan.”

“RIP Jay Severin,” he tweeted. “Made talk cool to many people who’d never heard the format. He was a fun guy to talk to and I’ll miss him.”

In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Severin leaves a sister, Denine Taylor.

A service will be held but arrangements are pending.



John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe. Emily Sweeney can be reached at emily.sweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.