Bob Simon dies at 73; '60 Minutes' correspondent for CBS

Longtime CBS correspondent Bob Simon, who died Wednesday, was a 'reporter's reporter,' '60 Minutes' boss says

When veteran CBS correspondent Bob Simon and his three-member crew disappeared at the start of the Persian Gulf War in 1991, the network tried frantically to locate them — but prepared a video obituary, just in case.

"No one who knew Bob Simon seemed surprised when he ventured into enemy territory," Dan Rather somberly told the camera. "That was a very Simon thing to do. He was always seeking an edge to his work, pushing himself, moving the story along."

After 40 days of beatings and torture at the hands of Iraqi soldiers, Simon and the men with him were freed. He always thought his premature obit, which was released in a later account of his ordeal, was over the top — and, in recalling him as a "great" tennis player, inaccurate to boot.

Simon, a "60 Minutes" correspondent who reported for CBS from 130 countries over 47 years, died Wednesday in a Manhattan traffic accident, the network said. He was 73.

His "60 Minutes" boss, executive producer Jeff Fager, noted the irony: Simon "had escaped more difficult situations than almost any journalist in modern times" but lost his life as a passenger in a hired car that smashed into a Mercedes Benz at a stoplight.

He was a "reporter's reporter," Fager said of the correspondent who survived a mob beating in Belfast in Northern Ireland and witnessed bloodletting around the world.

Simon lived in New York City at the time of his death but for more than 20 years was based in Tel Aviv, where he reported on conflicts throughout the Middle East and around the world.

"It becomes an addiction of sorts," he told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2005. "I tend to brood a bit. Covering a war really pulls me out of myself. It's reality at its most intense."

Simon won 27 Emmy awards and numerous other honors.

When he and his crew left their hotel in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, early on the morning of Jan. 21, 1991, "we weren't expecting to find anything monumental," he wrote in "Forty Days," an account of his team's imprisonment. "We weren't combing the desert for scoops, revelations, or prizes. We just wanted to break away from the pack because it was becoming clear that the Pentagon was not going to lead the pack anywhere anything was happening."

The men were picked up by an Iraqi patrol in Kuwait and ultimately wound up in a dank basement jail at what they later learned was Saddam Hussein's intelligence headquarters in Baghdad. They were beaten with canes, slammed into walls, and repeatedly threatened with death. Simon contracted dysentery and lost 35 pounds.

Simon's Red Cross ID tag listed him as Protestant instead of Jewish — an error that he believed may have saved his life. Even so, one of his jailers angrily forced open Simon's mouth and spit in it, cursing him as "Yahoudi" — Jewish.

"I would have killed him if I could have," Simon later recounted, "and I would have had no more remorse than I had every morning when I got up and killed a cockroach in my room."

Hussein released Simon and the other newsmen after Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, prompted by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, intervened, CBS reported at the time.

Born in New York City on May 29, 1941, Robert David Simon grew up in the Bronx and graduated from high school in suburban Great Neck, N.Y. He attended Middlebury College in Vermont and, in 1962, graduated with a bachelor's degree in history from Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.

After college, Simon studied in France, where he met Francoise, his wife of 49 years. In addition to his wife, he is survived by their daughter Tanya Simon, a producer at "60 Minutes," and a grandson.

After traveling through Europe and Israel, Simon signed on briefly with the U.S. State Department as a foreign affairs officer. He left in 1967 to join CBS News, where he covered 35 overseas conflicts from Biafra to Bosnia. He witnessed the Yom Kippur War between Israel and Egypt, the fall of Saigon, the uprising at Tiananmen Square and the travails of the "lost boys" from South Sudan.

Simon contributed to "60 Minutes" and its spinoff "60 Minutes II" for years before he was named a fulltime correspondent for the flagship program in 2005. He ranged far from the fields of combat, reporting on opera — one of his passions anthropological discoveries, and the Moken, a nomadic tribe in the Indian Ocean whose language lacks words for "hello," "goodbye" and "time."

His final story, a collaboration with his daughter on the search for an Ebola cure, is to air Sunday, his network said.

steve.chawkins@latimes.com

Twitter: @schawkins 

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