April 8, 2012 at 10:43 AM ET
Mike Wallace, the grand inquisitor of CBS's "60 Minutes" news show who once declared there was "no such thing as an indiscreet question," has died at the age of 93, the network said on Sunday.
Wallace died on Saturday evening with his family by his side at Waveny Care Center in New Canaan, Conn., where he spent the past few years, CBS said in a statement and on its Sunday morning news broadcast.
"His extraordinary contribution as a broadcaster is immeasurable and he has been a force within the television industry throughout its existence. His loss will be felt by all of us at CBS," Leslie Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Corporation, said in the statement.
Former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather, who contributed to "60 Minutes," said in a statement, "Mike Wallace was from the beginning and for many years, the heart and soul of '60 Minutes.' In that role he helped change American television news. Among the ways that this change was for the better: TV news became more investigative, more aggressive and relevant. Mike was sharp and quick of mind, a fierce competitor and a master interviewer."
Former First Lady Nancy Reagan knew Wallace for three-quarters of a century. " "My heart is broken today over the death of my dear friend Mike Wallace," Reagan said in a statement. "My parents introduced me to Mike more than 75 years ago and we've been fast friends ever since. ... Mike was an old school journalist and one of the most astute people I've ever met. The news business will be a different place now, and our lives will be forever changed for having known him."
A special "60 Minutes" program dedicated to Wallace will be aired April 15.
"It was 65 years from Mike's first appearance on camera -- a World War II film for the Navy -- to his last television appearance, a '60 Minutes' interview with Roger Clemens, the baseball star trying to fight off accusations of steroid use," colleague Morley Safer wrote in a tribute on CBSNews.com.
"It's strange," Safer said, "but for such a tough guy, Mike's all-time favorite interview was the one with another legend, pianist Vladimir Horowitz. The two of them, forces of nature both: Sly, manic, egos rampant. For Mike -- a red, white and blue kind of guy -- Horowitz played 'The Stars and Stripes Forever.'
"It almost brought tears to the toughest guy on television," Safer added.
Just about anyone who made news during the past six decades -- in the United States, but often abroad too -- had to submit to a grilling by Wallace.
In almost 40 years on "60 Minutes," the ground-breaking investigative journalism program, he worked on some 800 reports, won 21 Emmys and developed a relentless on-air style that was often more interrogation than interview.
Wallace also drew criticism for his go-for-the-throat style and the theatrics that sometimes accompanied it. He also became caught up in a $120 million libel suit that resulted in no judgment against him or CBS but triggered a case of depression that led him to attempt suicide.
Wallace interviewed every U.S. president since John F. Kennedy - with the exception of George W. Bush -- and dozens of other world leaders like Yasser Arafat, Ayatollah Khomeini and Deng Xiaoping.
Other interview subjects included everyone from Malcolm X to Janis Joplin, Martin Luther King Jr., Johnny Carson, Vladimir Horowitz and Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.
When Wallace prefaced a question with "Forgive me for asking ..." or responded to a dubious answer with "Oh, come on," "60 Minutes" viewers knew he was about to get tough. His sometimes-abrasive manner resulted in the nickname "Mike Malice," and some viewers will always remember him as the man who made diva Barbra Streisand cry on camera.
In a 2006 retrospective of his "60 Minutes" career, Wallace summed up his interviewing technique as: "Let's ask the questions that might be on the minds of the people looking in ... 'If I were there in that chair where Wallace is, here's what I would want to know.'"
Reuters contributed to this report.