Ed Bradley, the award-winning television journalist who broke racial barriers at CBS News and created a distinctive, powerful body of work during his 26 years on “60 Minutes,” died Thursday. He was 65.
Bradley died of leukemia at Mount Sinai hospital, CBS News announced.
He landed many memorable interviews, including the Duke lacrosse players accused of rape, Michael Jackson and the only TV interview with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
Bradley “was tough in an interview, he was insistent on getting an interview,” said former CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite, “and at the same time when the interview was over, when the subject had taken a pretty heavy lashing by him — they left as friends. He was that kind of guy.”
With his signature earring and beard, Bradley was “considered intelligent, smooth, cool, a great reporter, beloved and respected by all his colleagues here at CBS News,” Katie Couric said in a special report.
President Bush issued a statement saying he and wife Laura were “deeply saddened” by Bradley’s death. The newsman, the statement went on, “produced distinctive investigative reports that inspired action and cemented his reputation as one of the most accomplished journalists of our time.”
Bradley’s consummate skills were recognized with numerous awards, including four George Foster Peabody awards and 19 Emmys, the latest for a segment on the reopening of the 50-year-old racial murder case of Emmett Till.
Three of his Emmys came at the 2003 awards: for lifetime achievement; a report on brain cancer patients; and a report about sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. He also won a lifetime achievement award from the National Association of Black Journalists.
Bradley joined “60 Minutes” in 1981 when Dan Rather left to replace Cronkite as anchor of “The CBS Evening News.”
His reporting ability was matched by his interviewing finesse. When he spoke with McVeigh in February 2000 at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., the convicted bomber told Bradley that he was angry and bitter after fighting in the Gulf War. In December 2003, Jackson said he had been “manhandled” when arrested on child molestation charges a few weeks earlier.
“Ed could get people to say the damndest thing because he put them at ease,” said former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw said Thursday. “It was like talking not to a reporter, but talking to an interested counselor of some kind. ... He had this wonderful way of stroking his beard and saying, ‘Well, what do you mean by that?”
Though he had been ill and had undergone heart bypass surgery about a year ago, he remained active on “60 Minutes.” In one of his last reports, an investigation of the Duke case that aired last month, he broke new ground with the first interviews with the accused.
“The first time I really understood that he was ill, on the air, was a couple of weeks ago,” said fellow “60 Minutes” correspondent Mike Wallace. “He was narrating a story, and his rich voice wasn’t there anymore. It was just thinner.”
Born June 22, 1941, Bradley grew up in a tough section of Philadelphia, where he once recalled that his parents worked 20-hour days at two jobs apiece. “I was told, ‘You can be anything you want, kid,”’ he once told an interviewer. “When you hear that often enough, you believe it.”
After graduating from the historically black Cheyney State College (now Cheyney University of Pennsylvania), he launched his career as a jazz DJ — he was a lifelong jazz fan — and news reporter for a Philadelphia radio station in 1963. He moved to New York’s WCBS radio four years later.
‘He seemed to be fearless’He joined CBS News as a stringer in the Paris bureau in 1971, transferring a year later to the Saigon bureau during the Vietnam War. He was wounded while on assignment in Cambodia. He was named a CBS News correspondent in early 1973 and moved to the Washington bureau in June 1974. He later returned to Vietnam, covering the fall of that country and Cambodia.
Cronkite recalled first meeting Bradley in Vietnam: “He seemed to be fearless, an incredibly smart reporter in getting the story.”
After Southeast Asia, Bradley returned to the United States and covered Jimmy Carter’s successful campaign for the White House. He followed Carter to Washington, in 1976 becoming CBS’ first black White House correspondent — a prestigious position that Bradley didn’t enjoy.
He jumped from Washington to doing pieces for “CBS Reports,” traveling to Cambodia, China, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. It was his Emmy-winning 1979 piece on Vietnamese boat refugees that eventually landed him on “60 Minutes.”
The latter piece still resonates for Wallace. “I’ll never forget the picture of Ed picking up a man who was about to drown,” he said. “... If Bradley told a story, you could be sure it was accurate, and at bottom it was done with integrity.”
“60 Minutes” producer Don Hewitt, in his book “Minute by Minute,” was quick to appreciate Bradley after he arrived at the show. “He’s so good and so savvy and so lights up the tube every time he’s on it that I wonder what took us so long,” Hewitt wrote.
Bradley recently served as a radio host for “Jazz at Lincoln Center,” where he won one of his four Peabody awards.
Wynton Marsalis, artistic director of Lincoln Center’s jazz department, called Bradley “one of our definitive cultural figures, a man of unsurpassed curiosity, intelligence, dignity and heart.”
Accepting his lifetime achievement award from the black journalists association, Bradley remembered being present at some of the organization’s first meetings in New York.
“I look around this room tonight and I can see how much our profession has changed and our numbers have grown,” he said. “I also see it every day as I travel the country reporting stories for ‘60 Minutes.’ All I have to do is turn on the TV and I can see the progress that has been made.”
But, he added, “There are many more rivers to cross, and many more stories to cover and, I hope, a lot left in this lifetime.”
Bradley is survived by his wife, Patricia Blanchet.