Ed Bradley, co-editor of “60 Minutes,” a 26-year veteran of the show and one of the most gifted and prolific TV journalists of his generation, died Thursday after a short bout with cancer. He was 65.
Bradley had numerous health problems and had undergone heart bypass surgery just over a year ago, but colleagues were caught by surprise by the announcement of his death by Katie Couric on CBS at 12:25 p.m. ET.
“It was a rapid decline; we didn’t know he had a severe form of leukemia,” said “60 Minutes” exec producer Jeff Fager. “It was a great shock to those of us who worked with him and loved him.”
Bradley’s last reports ran in October. He covered the Duke U. lacrosse rape case, interviewing three of the players at the center of the case in early October. He left his hospital bed to narrate his last report, on the chemical explosion at a BP refinery, which ran Oct. 29.
Bradley had a storied career at the Eye, and colleagues stressed his legacy is every bit as strong at the network as that of Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather or his “60 Minutes” colleague Mike Wallace.
Starting in the late 1980s, CBS execs repeatedly tried to convince Bradley to consider the anchor job at the “Evening News,” but talks didn’t go very far.
“Ed was talked about as a successor to Rather, but he didn’t want to do that,” said former “60 Minutes” executive editor Josh Howard. “He wanted to go out and meet people and do stories.”
Bradley won 19 Emmys during his career at CBS.
Bradley grew up in Philadelphia, where he got his start as a DJ and radio news reporter. He was hired in 1967 as a reporter for WCBS radio in New York.
He joined the network in 1971 as a stringer in the Paris bureau. A year later he was transferred to Saigon and was wounded covering the war in Cambodia.
After returning from Southeast Asia, Bradley became the first African-American correspondent in CBS’ storied Washington bureau, where he covered the White House and worked with Rather and Bob Schieffer.
Colleagues said Bradley overcame long odds for a cub reporter in the D.C. bureau among some giants of the profession.
“He could do all the basics better than anybody, but he had a distinctive style all of his own,” said former CBS News president Andrew Heyward. “All that added up to something in short supply in TV news and that is authenticity.”
Bradley came into his own as an anchor and master of longform, documentary-style journalism for the docu series “CBS Reports.” He also was anchor of the short-lived Eye newsmagazine “Street Stories.”
Alan Weisman, former producer of the series and author of the Dan Rather bio “Lone Star,” said Bradley’s range of interests set him apart.
“What made him great is he was interested in everything from jazz to politics to social issues,” he said.
But Bradley will be most remembered for his work on “60 Minutes,” which he joined as a full-time correspondent in 1981.
“I hired Ed Bradley because he’s a member of a minority,” “60 Minutes” founder Don Hewitt once told a stunned awards ceremony crowd. “He’s a great gentleman and a great reporter, and if that’s not a minority, I don’t know what is.”
During his 25 years on the show, Bradley produced more stories than any other correspondent, including memorable portraits of Muhammad Ali and Lena Horne.
He won recent Emmys for a report on brain cancer patients, a story on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and an interview with condemned Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
His interviews were hard-hitting, but he had his own particular style.
“Ed wouldn’t pounce or come back with a tough question; he would take off his glasses, rub his forehead and look up and say, ‘You know, that’s just not believable,’ ” Howard said.
With the semi-retirement of Mike Wallace in 2005, Bradley became the longest-serving full-time correspondent on the show and got the first spot to introduce himself after the ticking stopwatch — an honor known as the first “I’m.”
He filed more than 20 stories in his final year on “60 Minutes,” even as his editors advised him to slow down as his health deteriorated.
Bradley is survived by his wife, Patricia Blanchet.