The Doctor

Garroway’s days never contained enough hours

Since at least 1945 Dave Garroway had battled some form of depression. It mingled with his longtime tendency to burn the midnight oil. In the 1930s, he’d played all-night card games; as a young guide at NBC, he’d stayed into the night to hone his announcing skills in vacant studios.

At a card game sometime after World War II, Garroway met a doctor who told him about Dexedrine. At the time, the drug was still relatively new, and similar stimulants had been used during World War II to keep servicemen alert in combat situations. The risks and complications were not understood as well they now are, and Dexedrine and similar drugs were often prescribed for various ailments or suggested as a “pick-me-up” agent.

After that conversation, Garroway began using Dexedrine to help him stay alert during his long hours on the job. Several accounts have mentioned Garroway’s use of a liquid concoction he called “the Doctor,” made of Dexedrine and vitamins, which he drank from a bottle he kept with him.

While Garroway wasn’t the only one who used “The Doctor,” he became by far the most well-known, and its effect on his life would be sadly profound. Garroway would work all day at NBC, come home and put in several hours in his workshop to the wee hours, catch only a small amount of sleep, and then repeat the cycle. It was exacerbated by the fact that the more one uses a stimulant, the more of that stimulant one needs to get the same effect. Heavy use of these drugs can also induce serious side effects, including paranoia, hallucinations, hoarding, and skin-picking, and accounts from co-workers tell of Garroway exhibiting these signs.

With Garroway’s strange hours, his incredible workload, and the toll “the Doctor” was taking on him, the “master communicator” was wearing himself out. In 1958 the producer of Today decided to give Garroway a break from his crushing schedule and started videotaping most of the program the previous afternoon. It was a controversial move (“Today becomes Yesterday,” read one headline), but it was an attempt to give the troubled host some room to regain his life. Behind the scenes, rumors flew that Garroway was becoming difficult to work with, and that he was unhappy with the vision producers had for the program.

Making matters worse was that his marriage to Pamela was not going well. There were rumors that divorce was in the air. By 1961 Pamela was under a doctor’s care, and on April 28 she was found dead at home of a prescription drug overdose.

Pamela’s death added to Garroway’s troubles. After a few weeks’ leave from his NBC duties to tend to personal and family matters, Garroway made a brief return to the program, then made his final broadcast as Today host on June 16, 1961.

Next: After “Today”