BOSTON (CBS/AP) – Boston TV icon Rex Trailer died Wednesday night, his family announced on his website Thursday.

Trailer, 84, was the host of the popular children’s television show “Boomtown,” on WBZ-TV from 1956 to 1974. The program often included children with disabilities in the studio audience.

Trailer, who lived in Sudbury, was in Florida for Christmas visiting his sister when he came down with pneumonia and went into the hospital.

His family issued this brief statement:

Rex Trailer left this earth peacefully last night surrounded in love and song by his family. Rex had been in Florida for the holidays when he became ill into the New Year. While everyone’s prayers and support have been of great comfort to Rex, he decided it was time to go home. Rex and family thank all of you and love you.

A memorial service in honor of Rex to give tribute to his life and legacy is being planned in the near future but for now, the family requests privacy.

In an interview with WBZ NewsRadio 1030 in July 2011, Trailer said Boomtown had one motto:

“If it was not something that the kids could learn from, we didn’t do it.”

He said the best part of the show was that everyone had a good time.

“That was what our show was all about.”

Sidekick on the show, “Sgt. Billy” William O’Brien of Sandwich, was at a loss Thursday.

“I’ve been dreading this day for some time. Rex and I have been together for over 51 years,” O’Brien said. “Even though I know time waits for no man, he was such a strong influence on my life, I’m not sure what to do right now. He was a great mentor for how to treat people, how to treat animals.”

Skip Boucher who was Trailer’s production coordinator and a member of the “pooper-scooper brigade” said he will remember Trailer’s friendship.

“He was such a warm-hearted person and someone who liked to mentor other people. Everyone that knew Rex felt like you were his only friend. You felt like you had 100 percent of his attention, all the time.”

Trailer’s manager Michael Bavaro recalled Trailer as the “New England cowboy.”

“He was like a rock star. Even now, you would see grown men chasing after him on a horse in a parade,” Bavaro said. “He invigorated people and made them feel young again.”

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Jordan Rich was on the show when he was 4-years-old.

“Rex was a larger than life figure,” Rich said. “His legacy will be that of a great cowboy and certainly someone who lived the cowboy way.”

Jimmy Tingle was on the show when he was 31-years-old and remembered Trailer as an innovator.

“Of course we feel sadness but I can’t help but feel admiration for someone who followed his own instincts, created something that didn’t exist before and continued working on his own terms for several decades,” Tingle told WBZ NewsRadio 1030.

More than 250,000 children appeared in the live audience of Boomtown, which reached four-million children every Saturday and Sunday morning, according to Emerson College, where Trailer taught broadcasting classes part-time once Boomtown went off the air in 1974.

Rex Trailer was a childhood hero of Jay Leno. (Photo courtesy: Emerson College)

Rex Trailer was a childhood hero of Jay Leno. (Photo courtesy: Emerson College)

He also owned a television studio in Waltham and was a certified pilot and hypnotist.

Trailer got into show business on the advice of the ranch hands on his grandfather’s farm in Thurber, Texas. He got a job as a production coordinator with the Dumont Network in New York and worked his way up to producer and director. It was in New York where he first became an on-air talent as host of the “Oky Doky Ranch.”

He hosted western-themed TV shows in Philadelphia for five years before landing in Boston in 1955.

His original 13-week contract with WBZ-TV lasted nearly 20 years. When “Boomtown” went off the air, Trailer doffed his cowboy hat and hosted a science-themed children’s show for several years called “Earth Lab.”

His reach was so wide that in 2011 a state senator introduced legislation to make Trailer the “Official Cowboy of Massachusetts.”

His wife of 55 years, who went by Cindy, died about two years ago. He is survived by his daughter, Jillian Trailer-Rollock, and other family members.

WBZ-TV President and General Manager Mark Lund issued this statement Thursday:

Rex Trailer was a broadcasting legend who graced WBZ-TV as the host of “Boomtown” for more than two decades. He will be forever remembered as a broadcast pioneer whose creativity and compassion served as an inspiration to everyone who followed in his path. But more than that, Rex will be remembered as a true humanitarian and philanthropist who dedicated himself to serving the public…especially children with disabilities…for whom his love and service was unsurpassed. Rex’s WBZ “family” extends our deepest sympathy and great love to his family and friends, and we will forever have Rex in our hearts.

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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