Beloved news anchor who died of suicide may have feared dementia, brother says

The station, WPLG in Miami, has revealed that newscaster Todd Tongen's death was caused by suicide. Tongen's brother believes he may have feared a debilitating medical condition.

Get the latest from TODAY

Sign up for our newsletter
SUBSCRIBE
/ Source: TODAY
By Scott Stump

This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.

A community in South Florida is in shock and grieving after the sudden death of a longtime local news reporter.

Miami ABC affiliate WPLG reported Wednesday that beloved anchor and newsman Todd Tongen died by suicide, which his brother says may have been prompted by an undiagnosed medical condition.

A local news affiliate in Miami has revealed that the cause of longtime journalist Todd Tongen's death was suicide. Todd Tongen/Facebook

Police found the 56-year-old dead at his home Monday morning after his wife, who was on vacation in Italy with their younger son, asked a friend to check on him, according to WPLG.

Tongen's brother, Dr. Scott Tongen, told WPLG he believed his brother feared he had Lewy body dementia, which contributed to the death of their mother in 2017.

"I'm convinced that he thought he had it," he told the station. "Whether there was conclusive evidence or not, I think he thought he had it, and that may have been enough."

Trending stories,celebrity news and all the best of TODAY.

Tongen's death came as a shock to his brother, who said they had been planning a trip to Las Vegas.

"I don't really think he was thinking about ending his life, as far as I know," he said. "But there was clearly something that was bothering him.

"He left some garbled messages that we haven't seen yet, but there was a simple note that said he was lost and to forgive him."

Lewy body dementia is the second-most common form of degenerative dementia behind Alzheimer's disease, according to the Lewy Body Dementia Association.

The condition received attention after Robin Williams' widow said the comedian had it when he died by suicide in 2014. Cable news mogul Ted Turner was diagnosed with it last year.

Abnormal proteins inside brain cells affect chemicals in the brain, which can lead to problems with thinking, movement, behavior and mood, according to the National Institute on Aging.

Tongen is survived by his wife, Karen Tongen, and sons Tyler and Ryker.

Ron Magill, a spokesman for Zoo Miami and one of Tongen's longtime friends, drew a connection between his friend and Williams in a touching Facebook remembrance.

"As if losing you wasn't bad enough, to now have the reason we lost you confirmed, makes it incomprehensible,'' Magill wrote. "When I first heard what happened, I didn't believe it but then I immediately thought of Robin Williams and the parallels between the two of you.

"Universally loved, incredibly talented, and fabulously hilarious. And, tragically, in some way, profoundly depressed. The difference is that I did not know Robin Williams but I knew and loved you."

Tongen was approaching his 30th anniversary with WPLG, known as Local 10 News.

The station paid tribute to him with videos of his award-winning work over the years and remembrances by his colleagues.

"We are shocked and saddened by the death of Todd Tongen, but we are choosing to remember how he lived," WPLG President and CEO Bert Medina said in a statement. "Todd was an incredibly talented journalist. He spent 30 years at WPLG telling the stories of the people in our community and giving so much of himself to this community. He was an incredible person. He lit up the room with his warm personality."

Tongen worked in multiple roles after joining the station in December 1989, serving as a weatherman, interviewing celebrities while riding around town in his "10 Taxi" and most recently co-anchoring the weekend morning news with colleague Neki Mohan.

"We are all hurting at the loss of our very unique and treasured friend," Mohan told WPLG. "Todd was the foundation of this newsroom. He will never be replaced. I choose not to focus on how he died, but how he lived. My memories of our 10 years together will forever light up my life."