Sullivan was originally a newspaper sportswriter and theater columnist for the New York Daily News. His column concentrated on Broadway shows and gossip. He also did show business news broadcasts on radio.
In 1948 the CBS network hired Sullivan to do a weekly Sunday night TV variety show which became The Ed Sullivan Show. Sullivan himself seemed to have little acting ability and his mannerisms on camera were somewhat awkward and often caricatured by commedians (who called him "Great Stone Face" due to his deadpan delivery). Somehow Sullivan still seemed to fit the show; he appeared to the audience as an average guy who brought the great acts of show business to their home televisions.
In the 1950s and 1960s Sullivan was a respected starmaker because of the number of performers that became household names after appearing on the show. He had a nack identifying and promoting top talent and paid a great deal of money to secure that talent for his show.
In August of 1956 he was nearly killed in an automobile accident that occurred near his country home in Seymour, Connecticut and had to take a medical leave from the show missing the September 8 appearance of Elvis Presley on his show (something he earlier stated never would happen but he later changed his mind). The fact he had to play catch up to featuring such a star on his show made him determined to get the next big sensation first. In 1964, he achieved that with the first live American appearance of The Beatles.
Sullivan paid for the funeral of dancer Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson out of his own pocket.
Sullivan is interred in the Ferncliff Cemetery, Hartsdale, New York.
He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6101 Hollywood Blvd.