Ed Bradley, 65; ‘60 Minutes’ veteran known for cool, calm style won 20 Emmy Awards
Ed Bradley, the dapper CBS correspondent who was a mainstay of the Sunday night program “60 Minutes” for a quarter-century, died here Thursday of complications related to leukemia. He was 65.
The death of the CBS veteran, one of the first African Americans to gain a foothold in network television, shocked many of his colleagues, who knew he had undergone heart bypass surgery in 2003 but were unaware he had been diagnosed with leukemia in recent years.
Bradley had been in the office just two weeks ago, wrapping up work on a piece about an explosion at a Texas oil refinery. That story ran Oct. 29, the same day he was hospitalized at Mount Sinai Hospital because of complications of leukemia, which had been in remission until the last few months.
“It’s devastating,” said Jeffrey Fager, executive producer of “60 Minutes.” “He was a pillar of this broadcast. He was such a decent man, such an honorable man, with so much integrity and ability -- a real gentleman.”
“60 Minutes” correspondent Morley Safer, whose office was next to Bradley’s for the last 25 years and was one of the few who knew he was suffering from leukemia, called the reporter “a gold standard of television journalism.”
“I lost a friend and a neighbor, and it seems like we lost him at a very early age,” Safer said.
Bradley’s 35-year career at CBS News took him from the front lines of Vietnam to the White House before he was tapped in 1981 to replace Dan Rather on “60 Minutes” when the latter took over the evening newscast.
He landed the coveted job in large part because of his on-air persona, which captured the attention of then-executive producer Don Hewitt.
“I was just an admirer of his broadcast style: calm, cool, collected -- nothing seemed to perturb him,” Hewitt said. “I thought, that’s the guy for ’60 Minutes.’ ”
Once on the venerable program, Bradley applied his probing approach to a wide range of topics, scoring interviews with the likes of Timothy J. McVeigh, Muhammad Ali and Tiger Woods and investigating stories about nuclear fallout, the lack of AIDS drugs in Africa and sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
“He could do a story about anything,” said “Face the Nation” moderator Bob Schieffer, who worked with Bradley at the White House. “What made him so good was that he had this ability when interviewing people to get them to be themselves. Sometimes that was to their advantage and sometimes it wasn’t.”
Bradley bristled at being seen as a “black reporter,” but his success at a time when few African American faces were on the air made him a trailblazer in the industry. While he did not want to be pigeonholed on the race beat, he tackled many stories on the subject, including the 1979 piece “Blacks in America: With All Deliberate Speed,” which examined the state of racial progress in the United States.
Two years later, he drew acclaim for his poignant profile of Lena Horne, in which the singer emotionally discussed what it was like to grow up as a light-skinned African American woman who could pass as white. The story garnered him an Emmy, one of 20 he accumulated over the course of his career, including one in 2004 for the reopening of the 50-year-old murder case of Emmett Till, a black teenager who was killed after he allegedly whistled at a white woman in Mississippi. He received his last Emmy for a profile of Apollo astronaut Neil Armstrong that ran last season.
“I’ve always thought I’ve had the ability to look at someone -- and between ‘the look’ and the silence -- get them to be honest,” Bradley told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1995. “Call it intimidation, if you will. I don’t. As much as the look, it’s the silence that works. When you’re interviewing someone and you just wait, they rush to fill that space.”
Edward Rudolph Bradley Jr. was born on June 22, 1941, and grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Philadelphia, the only child of parents who divorced when he was very young.
He got his first taste of broadcasting while studying at Cheyney State College (now Cheyney University of Pennsylvania), a historically black school near Philadelphia. There, a friend who worked as a disc jockey for the local radio station, WDAS-FM, let Bradley announce a minute of news on the air one night as a lark. Bradley was hooked, and spent most of his nights as an unpaid disc jockey.
After graduating with a degree in education, he took a job as a sixth-grade teacher, but continued working at the station for free until his coverage of a local race riot persuaded the management to give him a job. He was hired as a night disc jockey, mostly to play jazz. After four years, Bradley went to WCBS in New York, an all-news radio station, where he worked as a reporter for three and a half years before quitting and moving to Paris, hoping to write “the great American novel.”
He never wrote the book, but CBS hired him as a stringer in its Paris bureau in September 1971. He then was dispatched to Saigon, where he was hired as a network correspondent in April 1973.
After being wounded by mortar fire while on assignment in Cambodia, Bradley worked as a general assignment reporter in the network’s Washington bureau, only to volunteer to return to Southeast Asia in 1975. He covered the fall of Vietnam and Cambodia, and was one of the last Americans to be evacuated from the region.
Assignments on the 1976 presidential campaign and White House followed before Bradley was tapped to be a principal correspondent for the documentary series “CBS Reports” in 1978. For one of his first pieces, he returned to Southeast Asia to do a story about the Vietnamese boat people -- at one point wading into the ocean in his blue jeans to help rescue refugees off of a dilapidated fishing vessel.
Once he landed on “60 Minutes,” Bradley navigated the fiercely competitive show with aplomb.
“There have always been turf battles among all of us, and he gave no quarter in any of that,” said longtime correspondent Mike Wallace, who described his former colleague as “strength and gentleness combined.”
One characteristic that distinguished Bradley was his full-throated pursuit of interests outside of work, friends said.
“We both agreed that there’s more to life than this show, and I think Ed kept the faith on that,” Safer said. “He just had a very full life.”
A passionate fan of the New York Knicks and a jazz aficionado, Bradley was also a workout buff who, until recently, went to the gym during his lunch hour every day. An avid skier, he frequently made trips to his home in Woody Creek, Colo., near Aspen, with his artist wife, Patricia Blanchet, who survives him.
Bradley was something of an iconoclast in the staid “60 Minutes” newsroom, startling many when he began sporting a gold earring in the 1980s.
“That really upset some people, but he could carry it off,” Schieffer said. “He was the coolest guy I ever knew.”