He covered wars and violence on every continent. He was kidnapped by Saddam Hussein’s soldiers in Iraq, where he was beaten and spat upon because he was a Jew. He survived, and he searched for more adventures.
“I would have killed him if I could have,” he later told reporters about one of his tormentors. “And I would have had no more remorse than I had every morning when I got up and killed a cockroach in my room.”
The award-winning veteran CBS News correspondent, Bob Simon, the embodiment of the fearless foreign correspondent, was killed on Wednesday night in a car accident on New York City’s West Side Highway.
Simon, best known for his long tenure on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” was riding in the back seat of a hired Lincoln Town Car about 6:45 p.m. when the driver lost control, sideswiped a Mercedes-Benz and ran into a metal median separating traffic on the highway, according to the New York Police Department. When police arrived at the scene, Simon was unconscious and unresponsive, suffering injuries to his head and torso. He was taken to Mount Sinai Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan, where he was pronounced dead. He was 73.
The cab driver was listed in stable condition, and the other driver was not injured, police said. New York police are investigating the incident.
During a special news report on Wednesday night, “CBS Evening News” anchor Scott Pelley announced Simon’s death with red, watery eyes.
“We have some sad news from within our CBS News family,” Pelley said. “Our ’60 Minutes’ colleague Bob Simon was killed this evening.
“Vietnam is where he first began covering warfare, and he gave his firsthand reporting from virtually every major battlefield around the world since.”
Simon had been with CBS News since 1967, when he joined the network’s New York newsroom. In 1996, he became a correspondent for “60 Minutes” and, later, for “60 Minutes II.” Over nearly five decades, he ventured into war zones and covered violence in Cyprus, Portugal, the Falklands and Yugoslavia. He reported on U.S. military actions in Grenada, Haiti and Somalia.
Perhaps most notably, he covered the Vietnam War from Saigon and the Persian Gulf War, during which, in 1991, he and his crew were captured by Iraqi forces and held for 40 days, according to his CBS biography. He later wrote a book about it the next year called “Forty Days.”
His most recent piece for “60 Minutes” aired last weekend, featuring an interview with Ava DuVernay, the director of “Selma,” an Academy Award-nominated film about the civil rights march to Montgomery, Ala., in 1965. He was currently working on a story about the Ebola virus, which was scheduled to air this Sunday. He was collaborating with his daughter, Tanya Simon, who is a producer for the program.
Simon will be remembered as a fearless globetrotter, the embodiment of the old-school foreign correspondent, with an itch for excitement and an outward calm. The executive producer of “60 Minutes,” Jeff Fager, called him a “reporter’s reporter” who was “driven by a natural curiosity that took him all over the world covering every kind of story imaginable.”
In 1991, when the news took Simon into the Persian Gulf War in Saudi Arabia, he pushed to find the first ground fight, sneaking across the border into Iraqi-controlled Kuwait. He was shooting a stand-up with his three crewmen in Kuwait when Iraqi soldiers saw them and captured them. They were taken to Baghdad where they were beaten with canes and nearly starved for 40 days — a time he called “the most searing experience of my life.”
“We got beaten up a lot, and badly,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1992. “But in my mind, I found I reached a certain accommodation with the beatings. Your instinct immediately afterward is to check, ‘Can I see? Can I hear? Am I OK in the vital parts?’ He knew the situation was bad but, he said, he knew political prisoners in Iraq had it much worse. “The thought of these other [methods], I tried to keep that out of my mind as much as I could.”
During one interrogation, he said, an Iraqi captain forced open his mouth, spit in it and called him a Jew, which he was. He was based in Israel.
After he was released, he said CBS News offered him his choice of several assignments, but he wanted to return to Tel Aviv, where he had been based since 1977.
“People find it funny,” he told Newsday at the time, “that I’m probably the only journalist who goes there to relax.”
Then in 1993, he went back to Baghdad to cover the American bombing in Iraq, according to his CBS biography.
“I’m old enough now that I’ve been a lot of places, and there are a lot of places I care about,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1992. “If China were to explode, I’d want to be there in a flash. If there’s a big story, I want to be there.”
Simon’s affinity for adventure never seemed to wane. At age 70, he took up the motorcycle again — his favorite mode of transportation back when he was covering stories in Israel, according to CBS News. In summer 2013, he rode from East Hampton to Maine — then back again — all in one day.
When Simon died on Wednesday night, Fager called it a “terrible loss.”
“It is such a tragedy made worse because we lost him in a car accident, a man who has escaped more difficult situations than almost any journalist in modern times,” he said.
Simon won numerous awards for his work, including four Peabodys and 27 Emmys, which may be the most held by a journalist for field reporting, CBS News said. His most recent award was the Special President’s Lifetime Achievement award from the Overseas Press Club, which he won in April 2014.
Simon was born in 1941 in the Bronx. His father, who was German, worked at a bank. His mother, who was Russian, exposed him to great literature, “even before I could read,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2003. In 1962, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Brandeis University in Massachusetts with a history degree and a hunger to see the world. After a short time serving in the U.S. Foreign Service, he got a job at WCBS-TV in New York.
On Wednesday night, CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who worked with Simon for “60 Minutes,” said that when Simon had a story, “you knew it was going to be something special.”
“Bob was — and I’ll tell you it’s very hard to talk about him in the past tense — but Bob was for the last five decades, simply one of the best, in my opinion,” Cooper said, “at getting a story, telling a story, writing a story and making it simply unforgettable.”
“He was a warrior-poet who loved life and loved people,” he added.
Simon is survived by his wife, Francoise, and his daughter, Tanya.
[This story has been updated.]