Newsman Ed Bradley dead at 65
EmptyEd Bradley, a one-time sixth-grade teacher who rose to the loftiest heights of TV journalism with intelligence, drive and cool — always, always cool — died Thursday morning from complications of leukemia at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. He was 65.
Bradley was one of the few journalists to achieve rock-star status in TV journalism as a hard-charging correspondent for "60 Minutes" as well as a role model for two generations of black journalists who saw him smash the color barrier on network TV.
Bradley was a correspondent at "60 Minutes" for 26 years, traveling the globe in search of stories and considered a top achiever on a classic show with the best journalists. He won every honor known to journalism, including 19 Emmys.
"He will be remembered as one of the genuinely important figures in 20th century broadcast journalism," said Andrew Lack, a friend and former colleague at CBS News. "He was alone in his class, and he produced some great work that will endure."
That great work ran the gamut of journalism from the most serious topics — such as the plight of the Vietnamese boat people in the late 1970s and standout coverage of the Vietnam War, where he was injured in Cambodia in 1973 — to profiles of singer Lena Horne, golf legend Tiger Woods and many others. He scored exclusive interviews with the famous and the infamous, including the only TV interview with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, and such usually press-shy celebrities as Woods and Bob Dylan. Bradley was at once a brilliant, probing interviewer and a man who set his subjects at ease.
"There are not any people I respect as much as Ed Bradley for every aspect of his life. He was an honorable, decent gentleman, a great reporter, a careful reporter," "60 Minutes" executive producer Jeff Fager said. "He had it all. He had everything that you would want in the perfect reporter and a natural broadcasting talent like none other in this business."
"60 Minutes" correspondent Lesley Stahl remembered, among so many other things, his voice and presence.
"You remember how he used to wear his glasses at the end of his nose, peering out," Stahl said. "He had a couple of looks. The 'who are you trying to kid' look for some people and the 'oh my God, my heart is breaking for you' look. He was so human and so real and such a great guy."
While Bradley had distinguished service as a war correspondent in Vietnam and a stint as a White House correspondent during the Carter administration, it was his work on the venerable documentary series "CBS Reports" that caught the eye of "60 Minutes." And none defined Bradley — and the kind of groundbreaking journalist he was — than the January 1979 report on the boat people who fled Indochina after the end of the Vietnam War.
In one scene that is still talked about today, Bradley, from a beach in Malaysia, saw people drowning offshore and rushed into the water to save as many as he could.
"He waded into the water, carrying people on shore who were dying all around him," said Lack, who was there. "One man died virtually in his arms."
Lack said Bradley wasn't looking to draw attention to himself. "It wasn't his way," he said, "but here he was on this beach, seeing those bodies, some of them lifeless, some of them clinging to life. He reacted as a human being." Bradley did his job, too, asking questions of the survivors like where they slept last night and when was the last time they ate.
"Those questions in their simplicity told you everything you needed to know," Lack said.
"In some ways it was one of the first network TV examples of reporter involvement," said Tom Yellin, an ABC News producer who worked with Bradley at "CBS Reports" in the late '70s. "But if the cameras hadn't been there, he would have done the same thing. That was a real landmark moment for him and for network news because it showed that reporters could take an active role without becoming advocates."
Yellin believes Bradley's experience in the Vietnam War — covering it from the Saigon bureau, being wounded by shrapnel in Cambodia and then volunteering to return for a harrowing few weeks to cover the fall of South Vietnam — shaped him profoundly.
"I think he was a much more influential person inside the community of journalists than he will ever really get credit for because he was in some ways the first modern reporter," Yellin said. "He brought a post-Vietnam sensibility to his reporting and his life. It's an intangible thing, but it had a lot of impact."
A "60 Minutes" piece by Bradley profiled former boxer Muhammad Ali, who was struggling with Parkinson's disease. CNN president Jon Klein, an executive in charge of "60 Minutes" in the '90s, recalled that piece as one of Bradley's finest.
"His Ali story was one that blew me away," said Klein, who as an executive had to approve it before it went on the air. "It was one you knew was perfect when it came out of the oven. Just extremely well done, that disarming manner, that no-BS attitude he had that helped his interview subjects open, even if he was asking probing questions, and he was."
"Cool" was among the most popular words Thursday to describe Bradley, whose youthfulness and ability to stay on top of trends was unparalleled. He had a love of jazz music that visitors to his "60 Minutes" office knew immediately because it was always playing. His sense of cool went well beyond his celebrated earring and beret and included a passion for music, art, sports and his vacation home by a Colorado creek.
"He was the coolest guy in the news business for sure, and he may have been one of the coolest in television," Lack said. Fager, in a separate interview, agreed: "I used to call him the coolest man on Earth. He deserved the title."
Another friend, journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault, said Thursday that Bradley was unassuming and a great, decent and caring friend who didn't wear the star status.
"He was one of the biggest stars in the galaxy of journalists," Hunter-Gault said, "but Ed was still Ed, the guy we called Teddy, who performed with his tambourine with the Neville Brothers."
Aaron Neville counted Bradley as a brother, recalling Thursday that the four-member Neville Brothers took to calling Bradley "the fifth Neville."
"He was a regular guy. He talked about the music. He'd come down and have dinner with us," Neville said. "It was always a pleasure to be around Ed Bradley. He was just a cool dude."
Bradley had fought health problems in recent years, the leukemia that had been in remission until about two weeks ago and open-heart surgery in 2004. But "60 Minutes" colleagues said he had returned to health and was still at the top of his game, recently scoring an exclusive interview with three athletes accused in the Duke University lacrosse case. Just last Sunday, Bradley's investigation into the deadly British Petroleum explosion ran on "60 Minutes."
Bradley will be remembered as a pioneering black journalist who made it to network TV, a role model for everyone who came after him. In October 2005, Bradley accepted a lifetime achievement award from the National Association of Black Journalists.
National Public Radio host Michele Norris recalls the encouragement Bradley would provide, often out of the blue calling and counseling her to stick with it and believe in her abilities.
"There are a generation of journalists who set their sights higher because he was in that chair," Norris said. "And how he did it was very important. There are a lot of people on air that are generally cut from the same mode. But he made it on his terms. They accepted who he was … and he was as cool as they came."
NABJ president and Ebony editorial director Bryan Monroe remembered that as a young journalist in 1989, he gathered the courage to walk up to Bradley at a reception. He found Bradley friendly, warm and encouraging, spending about 15 minutes with him.
"He was encouraging to me and so many more black journalists. We owe a lot to the battles he fought and the path that he took," Monroe said. "Just seeing him at 7 o'clock Sunday night inspired so many of us to know that we could do it."
Hunter-Gault said: "A lot of people are talking about how he was a trailblazer for African Americans, and he was that for sure, but he was a trailblazer for good journalism. Ed's work was always informed by who he was. He was an African American, but it was always informed by his humanity, and that transcended his race."
Stahl said Thursday that Bradley was strong and healthy in recent months after recovering from surgery. Few knew how sick he was.
"We're shocked the leukemia came roaring back a few days ago," she said.
Born Edward Rudolph Bradley on June 22, 1941, in Philadelphia, Bradley was a sixth-grade teacher in his hometown after graduating from Cheyney State College in 1964. He moonlighted at a Philadelphia radio station then got a job at WCBS-AM. Fluent in French, he became a stringer in CBS News' Paris bureau in 1971. He moved to the network's Saigon bureau in 1972 during the Vietnam War and was hit by shrapnel in Cambodia shortly after being named a CBS News correspondent in April 1973. While he went to the Washington bureau after recovering, he volunteered in March 1975 to cover the fall of Saigon. He became CBS News' White House correspondent between 1976-78.
During his CBS News career he was lead corespondent for "CBS Reports" from 1978-81, anchor of "CBS Sunday Night News" from 1976-81 and correspondent for "Street Stories" magazine in 1992 and '93.
"60 Minutes" will devote a full hour Sunday to remembering Bradley and his career. CBS News said late Thursday that funeral arrangements were incomplete.
Bradley was married to Patricia Blanchet and had homes in Manhattan, East Hampton, Long Island and Wood Creek, Colo.