RIP, Marvin Zindler

Marvin Zindler, Channel 13’s iconic crusading news reporter, has died from cancer at the age of 85.

Marvin Zindler, a Houston institution for more than three decades and a pioneer of consumer reporting, died Sunday at M.D. Anderson Hospital after a fight with cancer.

The irascible, flamboyant 85-year-old television personality had been diagnosed in July with inoperable pancreatic cancer that spread to his liver.

Even in his last days, Zindler continued to work, filing reports from his hospital bed. In his last report, broadcast Saturday, in which he helped a 45-year-old U.S. citizen secure a Social Security card necessary for employment, Zindler appeared thin and his voice was weak. Still, he signed off with a hearty “MAARVIN ZINDLER, eyewitness news” — his trademark for 34 years with KTRK Channel 13.

“Marvin Zindler was unique,” said Dave Ward, the station’s longtime anchor and one of the people responsible for Zindler being on the air. “There’s never been anyone who lived life more than this man or who wanted to do more than this man. This is a personal loss to me and to everyone at this station — and to every man, woman and child, really, who lives in Southeast Texas.”

Channel 13 interrupted its regular lineup Sunday at 8 p.m. to announce Zindler’s death, with Ward calling him “a legend in Houston television who will never be forgotten.”

The station had extended tributes during its 10 p.m. newscast.

Serbino Sandier-Walker, a journalism professor at Texas Southern University, called Zindler “irreplaceable.”

“Marvin Zindler was a man for the people,” Sandier-Walker said. “He fought for the little person. He made consumer reporting what it is today.”

To youthful viewers, Zindler is perhaps best known as the kind-hearted, grandfatherly figure in white wig and blue shades who delivered the weekly “rat and roach reports” based on health department restaurant inspections. After his idiosyncratic sign-off, his most famous catch phrase comes from the frequent health inspector findings of, “all together now, SLIIIME in the ice machine.”

But to generations of low-income Houstonians, Zindler was the champion of last resort, the man to whom you turned when bureaucracies seemed indifferent and businesses tried to take advantage. The station said that for many years Zindler received 100,000 appeals for help.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw Marvin Zindler on TV. It was the spring of 1987, and I was still a student at Trinity. I was in Houston for a school function, and stayed the night at my uncle Ken’s house. I was doing a little channel surfing and came across a KTRK newscast while Marvin was in mid-rant. I stopped to watch, mesmerized. After a few seconds, I’d decided I must have stumbled across an oddly-timed episode of “Saturday Night Live”, even though it wasn’t Saturday, it was the 6 PM news, and “SNL” was broadcast on NBC, not ABC, because there was just no way this was for real. But then Marvin handed things back to Dave Ward or whoever was in the anchor’s chair that night, and I realized, no, that really was for real. Later on, after I came to live in Houston, I understood.

People have often asked me if I experienced any culture shock in moving from New York to Texas. The truth of the matter is that for the most part, I really haven’t. Three things stand out to me as “I’m not in New York any more” moments, two of which I experienced as a freshman in college: Learning the hard way that there are streets with no sidewalks; discovering the joy of being able to wear T-shirts and shorts year-round; and seeing Marvin Zindler on TV for the first time.

As corny and bombastic and over-the-top and whatever else you want to say Marvin Zindler was, he truly was one of a kind, and as you can read in that Chron article, he did a lot more good for more people than most of us will ever be able to claim. The city of Houston is a little quieter, a little duller, and a little less colorful without him. Ken Hoffman, Mike McGuff, and Laurence Simon have more. KTRK has a tribute page to Marvin here.

MAAAAAARVIN ZINDLER, may you rest in peace.

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2 Responses to RIP, Marvin Zindler

  1. Pug says:

    I had a similar experience when I moved to Houston in 1981. The first time I saw Marvin I thought they were kidding, that it must be a comedy skit.

    I came to like him over the years like so many others in Houston. He was a bit of a hotdog, but he was a good man who did a lot of good things for people less fortunate than he.

    May he rest in peace.

  2. BETTY HARRIS says:

    May you rest in peace Marvin.
    To a wonderful person, who
    will be remembered.
    You are an angel, and so many people will truely miss you.
    my deepest sympathy to his family.

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