Max Robinson, 48, one of the superstars of television news here during most of the 1970s, is in critical condition and in intensive care at St. Francis Hospital in Blue Island, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.
Unconfirmed reports from Chicago suggest the former Channel 9 anchor is near death. The hospital has declined to reveal the nature of Robinson's illness, but confirms he was first hospitalized on Dec. 4.
His personal physician, Dr. William Ashley, a cardiologist and internal medicine specialist, told the Chicago Sun-Times yesterday that the family has requested that no details of his illness be released.
His brother, Randall Robinson, director of TransAfrica here, reportedly was en route to Chicago yesterday. Friends close to the family say Randall Robinson and his sister, Mrs. Jewell Sheppard of Washington, flew to Chicago over the Christmas weekend to be with him.
From 1969 until 1978, Robinson, who was joined by Gordon Peterson in 1971, was part of the Channel 9 anchor team that established then-WTOP as the top news station in this market. He was the first black anchor on Washington television, an important symbol for a city that had been stunned by riots in 1968 following the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
In February 1978, Robinson was hired by ABC News. In an unusual tribute to his local popularity, Channel 9 produced a half-hour documentary about his career in Washington on his departure.
That summer, ABC News introduced a three-anchor team for its revamped "World News Tonight" that included Frank Reynolds in Washington, Peter Jennings in London and Robinson in Chicago. Once again he pioneered -- as the first black anchor on nightly network television.
After five sometimes stormy years at the network -- he twice accused ABC of racism in speeches at Northampton, Mass., and Los Angeles -- he left to become a coanchor at WMAQ, the NBC-owned station in Chicago. In June 1985, in an early indication of personal problems, he voluntarily hospitalized himself for depression and alcoholism in Cleveland. At the end of that year, after frequent absences from the air, the station bought out the remainder of his contract.
Later, he became a part-time anchor on the syndicated show "Essence: The Television Program," produced by Essence Magazine Communications.
According to a spokesman for Robinson's agent, Alfred Geller, Robinson had appeared on the program at least once this year.
Geller's office said yesterday that in recent months, he was in Roanoke, Va., where he was working on an autobiography and developing independent television projects.
Neither Randall Robinson nor Jewell Robinson Sheppard was available for comment late yesterday.
In Other News
ABC News said yesterday it will air excerpts from the New Year's Day messages of Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and President Reagan tomorrow between 11:50 a.m. and noon. NBC plans to show the messages on a delayed basis at 1:18 p.m., just prior to the Fiesta Bowl ...
Cable News Network will air both messages in their entirety -- about 5 1/2 minutes each -- at 11 a.m. tomorrow ...