Longtime NBC newsman Edwin Newman dies

Peabody Award-winning journalist was 91

Edwin Newman, who served NBC News for 32 years and was one of the most respected journalists in broadcast news, has died, the network announced Wednesday. He was 91.

Newman died peacefully of pneumonia Aug. 13 in Oxford, England, his lawyer Rupert Mead told Reuters. His wife and daughter wanted to wait before announcing his death to come to terms with the loss, Mead said.

Newman was regarded as a master journalist -- a newsman, a commentator and an esteemed critic. He received the George Foster Peabody Award in 1966 for "wit and depth of understanding" for his radio news broadcasts.

Beginning in 1961 and until his retirement in 1984, Newman was an indefatigable force in network news. In addition to his commentary, he narrated numerous documentary specials for NBC -- at one point, he acknowledged that he had, perhaps, made more TV docs than anyone. He also moderated two presidential debates: Ford vs. Carter in 1976 and Reagan vs. Mondale in 1984.

A fastidious grammarian, Newman also was renown for his theater reviews and cultural criticism. Appointed drama critic for NBC in 1965, he delivered capsule reviews of Broadway plays. His sardonic wit and incisive analyses rankled some: Producer David Merrick barred him from his productions after Newman panned one of his shows.

Yet the "ban" only increased Newman's cache as a critic, and he won an Emmy in 1966 for his drama criticism. He was subsequently named critic-at-large for NBC, reviewing plays, performers and films, and he conducted interviews with such arts luminaries as Peter Ustinov and Andres Segovia.

Newman was involved in many of NBC "special events" programming. He narrated many memorable specials, including a 1965 program on the race riots in Chicago and Los Angeles.

Newman began his tenure with NBC in London in 1952 and headed up several of the networks news bureaus, including those in London, Paris and Rome.

"Ed Newman was never preachy or pedantic," NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams said in a statement. "He was approachable, elegant and precise. He was a teacher, a broadcaster and above all a superb journalist. To those of us watching at home, he made us feel like we had a very smart, classy friend in the broadcast news business."

Edwin Harold Newman was born in New York on Jan. 25, 1919, and majored in political science at the University of Wisconsin in Madison while writing for the university's stridently political newspaper, the Daily Cardinal. Obtaining his bachelor of arts degree in 1940, Newman entered graduate school at Louisiana State but left after a semester, taking a civil service post in Washington. However, the bureaucratic routine bored him, and he rekindled a boyhood dream -- to become a newspaperman.

Newman soon landed his first journalistic job, taking dictation at the International News Service's Washington bureau. After a stint with United Press, Newman entered the Navy in 1942, serving as a communications officer until the end of the war. Upon discharge in 1945, he worked at a variety of journalistic posts, highlighted by a period of learning under Eric Sevareid at CBS' Washington bureau.

He left CBS and moved to London where he did free-lance work, writing magazine articles and doing special broadcasts for the BBC and NBC. Newman began at NBC full-time in 1952 and became NBC London bureau chief four years later. In 1961, he received an Overseas Press Club award for his foreign news stories coverage, including assignments in all the leading European cities as well as in Africa, the Middle East and the Far East. He was the only Western journalist to have interviewed Japanese emperor Hirohito.

Newman returned to the U.S. in 1960 to cover the Kennedy-Nixon presidential election and moved back permanently the following year, joining the "Today" show in New York. Additionally, he presented radio newscasts and moderated "The Nation's Future," a series of TV debates. In 1961, he substituted for Chet Huntley on the weekly "This Is NBC News."

Newman distinguished himself on a special in 1964 on the one-year anniversary of JFK's assassination. He appeared on a panel with CBS' Walter Cronkite and ABC's Howard K. Smith, talking about TV in electronic age. He defended criticism of TV news coverage, arguing that its brevity was a virtue since it highlighted the essentials of a story.

An enthusiastic grammarian, Newman also chaired the usage panel of American Heritage Dictionary. He wrote four books on language, including "Strictly Speaking, Will America Be the Death of English? (1984), "A Civil Tongue" (1976) and "I Must Say" (1989).

Nonetheless, the tousled newsman also had a sense of fun: He hosted two episodes of "Saturday Night Live" and appeared on sitcoms including "Murphy Brown." In 1996, he hosted "Weekly World News," bringing his authoritarian tone to the newsmagazine satire.

Newman and his wife, Rigel, had moved to England in 2007. He is survived by his wife and daughter Nancy.