WASHINGTON — Tim Russert, NBC News’ Washington bureau chief and the moderator of “Meet the Press,” died Friday after suffering a heart attack at the bureau. He was 58.
Russert was recording voiceovers for Sunday’s “Meet the Press” broadcast when he collapsed. He was rushed to Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, where resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful.
Russert’s physician, Michael Newman, said cholesterol plaque ruptured in an artery, causing sudden coronary thrombosis.
Russert had earlier been diagnosed with asymptomatic coronary artery disease, but it was well-controlled with medication and exercise, and he had performed well on a stress test in late April, Newman said. An autopsy revealed that he also had an enlarged heart, Newman said.
Russert’s death left his colleagues devastated.
He was “one of the premier political journalists and analysts of his time,” Tom Brokaw, the former longtime anchor of “NBC Nightly News,” said in announcing Russert’s death Friday afternoon. Brian Williams, managing editor and anchor of “NBC Nightly News,” called his death a “staggering, overpowering and sudden loss.”
“Meet the Press,” which he began hosting in 1991, was considered an essential proving ground in the career of any national politician.
“If you could pass the Tim Russert test, you could do something in this field,” said Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for Newsweek magazine and a columnist for msnbc.com.
Tenacity and passion
Russert was best known for his on-air tenacity as a reporter and his consuming passion for politics, which were evident during his nearly round-the-clock appearances on NBC and MSNBC on election nights.
But behind the scenes, Russert was also a senior vice president and head of NBC’s Washington operations, orchestrating all of the network’s coverage of government and political news.
“This is a tragic loss for journalism and for all who were privileged to know him,” said Walter Cronkite, the retired anchor and managing editor of ”The CBS Evening News.”
President Bush described Russert as "an institution in both news and politics for more than two decades."
He interrupted a news conference in Paris on Saturday to pay tribute to Russert, saying the world had "lost a really fine American."
"Tim Russert loved his country, he loved his family and he loved his job a lot and we're going to miss him," the president said.
"We send our deepest sympathies to Maureen, his wife, and Luke, his son. I know they are hurting right now and hopefully the prayers of a lot of Tim's friends and a lot of Americans will help them during this time of difficulty."
Earlier this year, Time magazine named Russert one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Mayor Byron Brown ordered flags flown at half-staff in Buffalo, N.Y., his hometown. NBC News' Brokaw was to host a special edition of “Meet the Press” remembering Russert on Sunday morning.
Senate staffer before entering journalism
Timothy John Russert Jr. was born in Buffalo on May 7, 1950. He was a graduate of Canisius High School, John Carroll University and Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. He was a member of the bar in New York and Washington, D.C.
He had recently returned from Italy, where his family celebrated the graduation of his son, Luke, from Boston College.
After graduating from law school, Russert went into politics as a staff operative. In 1976, he worked on the Senate campaign of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., and in 1982, he worked on Mario Cuomo’s campaign for governor of New York.
Russert joined NBC News in 1984. In April 1985, he supervised the live broadcasts of NBC’s TODAY show from Rome, negotiating and arranging an appearance by Pope John Paul II, a first for American television. In 1986 and 1987, Russert led NBC News’ weeklong broadcasts from South America, Australia and China.
(Msnbc.com is a joint venture by Microsoft and NBC Universal, parent of NBC News.)
Of his background as a Democratic political operative, Russert said, “My views are not important.”
“Lawrence Spivak, who founded ‘Meet the Press,’ told me before he died that the job of the host is to learn as much as you can about your guest’s positions and take the other side,” he said in a 2007 interview with Time magazine. “And to do that in a persistent and civil way. And that’s what I try to do every Sunday.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a statement that Russert “asked the tough questions the right way and was the best in the business at keeping his interview subjects honest.”
Russert wrote two books — “Big Russ and Me” in 2004 and “Wisdom of Our Fathers” in 2006 — both of which were New York Times best-sellers.
Emmy for Reagan funeral coverage
Russert was to have received a lifetime achievement award from the Newhouse School of Public Communication at Syracuse University on June 23. The school said the award would be presented posthumously.
In 2005, Russert was awarded an Emmy for his role in the coverage of the funeral of President Ronald Reagan.
His “Meet the Press” interviews with George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000 won the Radio and Television Correspondents’ highest honor, the Joan S. Barone Award, and the Annenberg Center’s Walter Cronkite Award.
Russert, who received 48 honorary doctorates, won countless other awards for excellence during his career, including the Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association, the John Peter Zenger Freedom of the Press Award, the American Legion Journalism Award, the Veterans of Foreign Wars News Media Award, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society Journalism Award, the Allen H. Neuharth Award for Excellence in Journalism, the David Brinkley Award for Excellence in Communication and the Catholic Academy for Communication’s Gabriel Award.
He was a member of the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame and a member of the board of directors of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
He was a trustee of the Freedom Forum’s Newseum and a member of the board of directors of the Greater Washington Boys and Girls Club and America’s Promise — Alliance for Youth.
In 1995, the National Father’s Day Committee named him “Father of the Year,” Parents magazine honored him as “Dream Dad” in 1998, and in 2001 the National Fatherhood Initiative also recognized him as Father of the Year.
Survivors include his wife, Maureen Orth, a writer for Vanity Fair magazine, whom he met at the 1976 Democratic National Convention; and their son, Luke.
Alex Johnson of msnbc.com and John Yang and Ken Strickland of NBC News contributed to this report.