Ed Bradley of '60 Minutes' Dies at 65

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 10, 2006

Ed Bradley, 65, a suave and streetwise reporter considered one of the best interviewers on television and the winner of 19 Emmy awards for his work on "60 Minutes" and "CBS Reports," died of leukemia Nov. 9 at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He lived in New York.

Bradley, the first African American at CBS to be a White House correspondent and a Sunday night anchor, covered a broad array of stories with insight and aplomb during his 39-year career, from war to politics to sensitive portraits of artists. He won virtually every broadcast news award -- some of them more than once.

"He was an icon not only to black journalists, but to journalists at large," said Bryan Monroe, vice president and editorial director of Jet and Ebony magazines and president of the National Association of Black Journalists, which gave Bradley its lifetime achievement award last year. "While there may have been a script, he was open to improvisation, spontaneity and going where the story took you. He stayed authentic to who he was."

Bradley's ability to handle hard-nosed investigations and to draw out guarded celebrities made him a star. He covered the Vietnam War, a presidential campaign and the White House and at times anchored the evening news. Last month, he said he was still having fun, even with a heavy workload of 23 pieces a year.

Bradley was a jazz-loving native of Philadelphia who rose from unpaid radio work to the most senior position on the most popular news program on TV. Tall and well-built, with close-cropped gray hair and beard, he had the tailored, seasoned look of a foreign correspondent but was always stylish, signified by the earring he sometimes wore.

"Ed Bradley was the coolest guy I have ever known," said Bob Schieffer, CBS's chief Washington correspondent and a close friend. "He knew everybody, from Jimmy Carter to Jimmy Buffett, Muhammad Ali and Tiger Woods. . . . People just loved him. Ed always had a kid with him, a godson or someone's child. God knows how much money he gave away to charity. He was the softest touch in town."

He "was 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" to put him on "60 Minutes," producer Don Hewitt wrote in his book "Minute by Minute" (1985).

One of his last stories, which aired on "60 Minutes" on Oct. 15, investigated the Duke University rape case, scooping everyone with exclusive interviews with the accused lacrosse players and raising doubts about the prosecution's case. The Duke story "had everything that in many ways defines this country -- elements of race, sex and privilege," he told the Philadelphia Inquirer's Gail Shister last month.

Some of his other notable stories included an insightful interview with golfer Woods, the only interview with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, a documentary on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and coverage of the Columbine High School shootings. He reported the reopening of the Mississippi murder case of 14-year-old Emmett Till, which reignited the civil rights movement in 1955.

As an interviewer, Bradley had the air of an interested and close listener. Although colleagues such as Mike Wallace and Dan Rather would pounce on a subject, Bradley would wait, letting his patience and silence draw out both nervous and experienced subjects. His questions were rarely accusatory but always pointed.

"[Richard] Clark has alleged that the Bush administration underestimated the threat from al Qaeda, didn't act as if terrorism was an imminent and urgent problem. Was it?" he asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

His range of work was such that he once said, "If I arrive at the pearly gates and St. Peter said what have I done to deserve entry, I'd ask, 'Did you see my Lena Horne story?' "

He told the Radio Television News Directors Association magazine: "My formula for success has three elements: the talent you're given, the hard work you do to get better at whatever it is that you do, and a certain amount of luck. And I always found that the harder I worked, the better my luck was, because I was prepared for that. I will not go into a story unprepared. I will do my homework, and that's something I learned at an early age."

Edward R. Bradley was born June 22, 1941, in a tough section of west Philadelphia, where, he recalled, his parents worked 20-hour days, with two jobs each. He graduated from what is now Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, a historically black college.

As a center and defensive end on the school's football team, the six-foot, 235-pound Bradley was nicknamed "Big Daddy." Forty-three years, a heart bypass operation and 45 fewer pounds later, "my new nickname is 'Tiny Daddy,' " he told Shister.

Bradley taught sixth grade after college and worked at night and without pay as a disc jockey playing jazz and doing play-by-play for basketball games on WDAS-FM radio in Philadelphia.

His first news story was covering riots in north Philadelphia, which won him a minimum-wage salary of $1.25 an hour. By 1967, he was hired at the all-news WCBS Radio in New York City. In 1971, Bradley moved to Paris and broke into TV as a stringer for CBS News.

He went to the Saigon bureau and was in Cambodia in 1973 when he was wounded in the left arm by mortar fire and shrapnel peppered his back. The soldier standing next to him was killed.

Bradley returned to the United States, in the CBS Washington bureau, covering Carter's presidential campaign. He became White House correspondent from 1976 to 1978 and anchored the Sunday evening newscast. He hated being tied to an office and soon jumped to "CBS Reports" as its principal correspondent, traveling to Cambodia, China, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.

It was his Emmy-winning 1979 work on a story about Vietnamese boat people that brought him wide attention. In it, he plunged into the South China Sea off Malaysia to help pull them to safety. Later in the piece, he was besieged by thousands of refugees at a shantytown who were desperate to get messages to relatives around the world.

The work landed him on "60 Minutes" in 1981, the first African American on that program.

He always remembered where he came from, said another old friend, Acel Moore, an associate editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

He visited Philadelphia regularly and kept in touch with old friends, Moore said, never bragging but seeming to delight in his success. In 1985, while being interviewed by Playboy magazine, Bradley pointed to a photo on his office wall. "For me to be able to stand up in the Khyber Pass and say, 'Boy, here's little Butch Bradley from West Philly. Alexander the Great passed through here 2,500 years ago' -- God, I mean, that's a kick!"

His death took most colleagues by surprise. Schieffer, who last saw Bradley in September, said he was "struck that day by how frail he looked." Bradley, who had coronary bypass surgery in 2003, entered the hospital last week, Schieffer said, for what friends thought was pneumonia.

Bradley became one the most recognized journalists in America when he joined "60 Minutes" and was described as one of the most trusted TV personalities and ranked second only to retired CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite in competence in a 1995 TV Guide poll.

Cronkite told the Associated Press that Bradley "was tough in an interview, he was insistent on getting an interview, 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."

His first marriage ended in divorce, as did his second, to Priscilla Coolidge.

Survivors include his wife, Patricia Blanchet of New York.

"I should tell you I'm not finished yet," he told the NABJ last year. "There are many more rivers to cross, and many more stories to cover, and I hope, a lot left in this lifetime."

Staff researcher Karl Evanzz contributed to this report.

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