L.A. icon Jerry Dunphy, epitome of the handsome, sonorous news anchor whose longevity in a profession known for high turnover turned him into a Southland institution — so much so that he played himself (or someone like him) in numerous films and TV shows — died Monday after suffering a heart attack last Wednesday in front of his Wilshire Boulevard condo.
He was 80 and still brawny and the picture of health as he anchored the news just a week ago on KCAL Channel 9, but this nonetheless was his third known heart attack, after ones in 1978 and 1991.
Famous for beginning every L.A. broadcast for 40 years with the words, “From the desert to the sea to all of Southern California, a good evening,” he was one of the most recognized and popular news anchors in L.A. history.
He first became a Southland fixture at CBS affiliate KNXT-TV (now KCBS-TV) as an anchor on the innovative “The Big News” from the early 1960s and into the mid-1970s.
Later he anchored for ABC affiliate KABC-TV for several years. While working there in 1983 he and KABC makeup artist Sandra Marshall (later his second wife) were shot and robbed by gang members who broke into his home, tied them up, stole cash and jewelry, and drove off in his Rolls-Royce (his car a sign of how well-paid and valued he was).
Dunphy joined KCAL-TV in 1989 when the station was acquired and renamed by the Walt Disney Co. KCAL lured Dunphy away from KABC to be the centerpiece of the station’s groundbreaking three-hour primetime news block; his contract at the time was worth an estimated $5 million over five years, but even before then he was known to be the highest-paid or one of the highest-paid local anchors in the nation.
He went back to KCBS in 1994 when KCAL let his contract, but he couldn’t work his patented aud-drawing magic this time and returned to KCAL in 1997.
Dunphy’s celebrity status as a local L.A. newscaster gave him cachet to film and TV roles in Hollywood where he usually played a dashing, serious, white-haired newscaster — basically, himself. His notable appearances ranged from TV series such as “Batman,” “Hart to Hart” and “Roseanne” to more than 20 feature films including “Oh, God,” “Independence Day,” “Beverly Hills Cop III,” “The Jerky Boys” and “Bulworth.”
Born and reared in Milwaukee, Dunphy served as a captain in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, flying 29 bombing missions over Japan and earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and two Presidential Unit Citations. After the war, he returned to Wisconsin to finish college. In 1947, he began his broadcast career in Peoria, Ill., for $1 an hour. He also served as a reporter for CBS Radio. He was one of the first local newsmen to report from Vietnam in 1966. In 1979, he gained the first extended live TV interview with Richard Nixon post-presidential resignation. In 1993, he received the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ L.A.-area Governors Award.
He had six children from two marriages.
Funeral arrangements are pending.