Bob Simon, a globe-trotting CBS News journalist and “60 Minutes” correspondent, who covered hot spots from Vietnam to Northern Ireland and who spent 40 days in an Iraqi prison during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, died Feb. 11 in a car crash in New York City. He was 73.
He was a passenger in a livery cab that lost control on Manhattan’s West Side Highway, struck another car and veered across the roadway before crashing into metal stanchions in the median. Rescue teams pried open the roof of the Lincoln Town Car to extract Mr. Simon from the wreckage. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.
The driver of the car was hospitalized with a variety of injuries, and the crash is under investigation.
In his 47 years at CBS, Mr. Simon won 27 Emmy Awards and four Peabody Awards, according to the network, making him one of the most highly honored correspondents in television history. He began contributing to “60 Minutes” in the 1990s and became a full-time correspondent for the popular CBS Sunday-night magazine program in 2005.
Among his dozens of stories, he interviewed failed suicide bombers in the Middle East, reported on the massacre of thousands of civilians in Bosnia and chronicled determined musicians in Africa. This past Sunday, he interviewed director Ava DuVernay about her Oscar-nominated film, “Selma.”
“Bob was for the last five decades simply one of the best, in my opinion, at getting a story, telling a story, writing a story and making it simply unforgettable,” Anderson Cooper, a “60 Minutes” contributor, said Wednesday on CNN. He called Mr. Simon “a warrior-poet who loved life and loved people.”
He was known for his dashing appearance, often appearing on screen in a safari jacket or trench coat, and for his willingness to challenge authority all over the world. He confronted Israeli officials about the killing of Palestinian civilians — and was equally blunt in questioning Palestinians about attacks on Israelis.
Mr. Simon was badly beaten by a mob in 1969 while covering the Catholic-Protestant conflict in Northern Ireland and was held at gunpoint in 1989 during the final days of the regime of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
Between dangerous assignments in Vietnam, he covered the Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur War in 1973. Returning to Vietnam, he was among the last reporters to leave Saigon by helicopter as the city fell to communist forces in April 1975.
“Bob Simon is so damn competitive,” foreign correspondent Peter Arnett told the Hartford Courant in 1997. “The guy’s eyes gleam when he’s in the field.”
While based in Tel Aviv in 1991, Mr. Simon was assigned to cover the Gulf War, popularly known in the United States by its military moniker of Desert Storm. Chafing at restrictions placed on journalists by the Defense Department, he and his three-person crew set out from Saudi Arabia to cover the war on their own.
“This is Bob Simon, CBS News, in the no man’s land between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait,” he said at the end of one report.
After that report, he was not seen or heard from for weeks.
Along the border of Saudi Arabia and Iraqi-occupied Kuwait on Jan. 21, 1991, Mr. Simon and his colleagues were captured by Iraqi forces loyal to Saddam Hussein. The prisoners were handcuffed and transported to a prison in Baghdad.
“We were brutally interrogated,” Mr. Simon later told People magazine. “They beat me on my head and feet, then they beat the others.”
One of his captors forced open Mr. Simon’s mouth and spat in it.
“I would have killed him if I could have,” Mr. Simon said in a “60 Minutes” interview after his release. “And I would have had no more remorse than I had every morning when I got up and killed a cockroach in my room.”
Mr. Simon, who was Jewish, carried a Red Cross identification card that had been issued with the wrong religious affiliation, indicating that he was Protestant. He said the mistake saved his life.
Near the end of his captivity, the Iraqis discovered his true identity and accused him of being an agent of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency.
“I knew it would be a short trial, and I knew what the result would be,” Mr. Simon said in 2003. “I knew they were going to execute me.”
But within a day of the revelation, bombs from Allied airstrikes destroyed much of the cell block in which Mr. Simon and his colleagues were held. After behind-the-scenes intervention from Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger and other high-ranking dignitaries, Mr. Simon and the other journalists were released on March 2, 1991.
They emerged bearded and gaunt after their 40-day ordeal. In 1992, Mr. Simon published a well-received book, “Forty Days,” in which he described his captivity as “the most searing experience of my life.”
He and his fellow prisoners were given two pieces of bread and two glasses of water a day. He often fantasized about being back in New York, he said, eating at the Carnegie Deli or walking down Broadway with an ice cream cone.
Robert David Simon was born May 29, 1941, in the Bronx. His father worked on Wall Street, and his mother was an accountant.
Mr. Simon was a 1962 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., then studied at the University of Lyon in France on a Fulbright fellowship. He worked for the State Department and later with the U.S. mission to the United Nations before joining CBS in 1967.
He received the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award, one of the highest honors in broadcast journalism, for “The Shame of Srebenica,” a 1999 report in which he examined the killings of more than 8,000 civilians in Bosnia earlier in the decade.
He received an Emmy Award for lifetime achievement in 2003, two years before he began working full time at “60 Minutes.”
At the time his death, Mr. Simon was putting the final touches on a report about a search for a cure for Ebola, working with his daughter, “60 Minutes” producer Tanya Simon. The segment is scheduled to be broadcast on Sunday.
Other survivors include his wife of 48 years, Francoise Simon, and a grandson.
In a medium in which images are paramount, Mr. Simon was known for his graceful writing, which could elevate his stories to a memorable, even literary level.
Last year, he won his 27th Emmy for a report about a poverty-stricken town in Paraguay, where children found salvation by playing music on instruments made from recycled garbage.
Two years earlier, Mr. Simon received his fourth Peabody for “Joy in the Congo,” a stirring account of an African orchestra led by a determined conductor who taught rank amateurs to play instruments and to love the classics of Western music, including Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
“It’s called the ‘Ode to Joy,’ the last movement of Beethoven’s last symphony,” Mr. Simon said at the end of his 2012 report. “It has been played with more expertise before, but with more joy? Hard to imagine.”