TV, radio icon Leila Benitez-McCollum dies of COVID-19 complications in New York

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 9) — Legendary TV and radio personality Leila Benitez-McCollum passed away Thursday morning (Manila time) due to complications from COVID-19 in New York City, a family member confirmed to CNN Philippines. She was 89.

"She died peacefully at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan and didn't have to suffer like other COVID-19 patients," her niece Vivian Talambiras-Cruz of New Jersey said. "She was tested positive of the virus shortly after being moved to the hospital from a rehabilitation clinic."

Known as the first lady of Philippine television, Benitez-McCollum was a household name from the late 50s to the early 70s.

She hosted the show "Student Canteen," a trail-blazing talent show dedicated to the youth and which dominated the noontime ratings for 15 years. She co-hosted it with Eddie Ilarde and the late Pepe Pimentel and Bobby Ledesma.

Benitez-McCollum also hosted other shows like "Darigold Jamboree" and "The Leila Benitez Celebrity Hour," which featured Hollywood stars like Harry Belafonte, Neil Sedaka, and Ann-Margret.

She was in the United States when martial law was declared. With all her TV programs canceled, she decided to stay in the U.S. and anchored the Voice of America, a program under the U.S. Information Agency broadcast across the Asia Pacific Region.

Benitez-McCollum, who had a degree in psychology from Georgetown University, last visited the Philippines in 2003 when she was honored during the 50th anniversary of her home network, ABS-CBN.

Born in Quezon City, she left behind three sons — Gerry, Gil, and Martin — and four grandchildren.

She was predeceased by her husband of 38 years, Donald McCollum, founder of the first marketing and television research company in the U.S.