CBS News correspondent Robert C. Pierpoint — who covered six presidents, the Korean War, the Kennedy assassination and the Iranian hostage crisis in a career that spanned more than four decades — died Saturday, Oct. 23, in California. He was 86.
Pierpoint, who retired in 1990, died of complications from surgery at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. He had broken his hip Oct. 12 at the Santa Barbara Retirement Community, where he lived with his wife Patricia.
After making his name covering the Korean War — a role he reprised when he provided his radio voice for the widely watched final episode of “MASH” in 1983 — Pierpoint became a White House correspondent during the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration, a position he would hold through the Jimmy Carter administration.
“He lived quite an amazing life,” said Marta Pierpoint. She said her father was most proud of his coverage of the Korean War, Watergate and, most of all, the Kennedy assassination, an event that would still bring him to tears in an interview with his hometown paper three weeks before his death.
“I didn’t like what the priest said about a time to live and a time to die,” Robert Pierpoint told the Santa Barbara News-Press in an Oct. 2 story. “It was not Kennedy’s time to die.”
Pierpoint said his “one bad mistake” the day of the assassination was not revealing that Jacqueline Kennedy had blood on her pink suit when she walked out of her husband’s hospital room. “I didn’t describe the blood, and I should have,” he said. “I was in shock.”
Pierpoint said his first White House assignment, the Eisenhower administration starting in 1957, wasn’t easy. Eisenhower was “a relatively good president, but he wasn’t a good communicator. I didn’t feel that I did a good job, but they kept me on.”
CBS kept Pierpoint on at the White House, for 23 years, a period he chronicled in his 1981 memoir, “At the White House.”
He moved to covering the State Dept. in 1980 and ended his career on the show “Sunday Morning” with Charles Kuralt.
Born May 16, 1925, in Redondo Beach, Calif., Pierpoint joined the Navy in 1943 but didn’t see action. He graduated from the U. of Redlands, where his papers and archives are now kept, in 1948.
While a graduate student at the U. of Stockholm he began work as a stringer for CBS and found his calling. His coverage of an attempted Communist coup in Finland won him attention, and he was sent to Tokyo as a full-time correspondent, which led to his coverage of the entire Korean War.
Pierpoint shifted as the news business did from radio to television, and appeared on the first episode of Edward R. Murrow’s “See It Now” in 1951, eventually becoming one of the close Murrow associates known as “Murrow’s Boys.”
Before his career was over he had won two Emmys with other reporters, including one for his work on a 1989 banking scandal just before his retirement.
During retirement he was a frequent speaker. He also didn’t hesitate to give his opinion on the directions the White House went after he left, saying recently that he was not impressed with President Obama.
“He’s not a fighter. He surrenders to Congress before it’s necessary,” Pierpoint told the News-Press. “Lyndon Johnson was a fighter. He fought for what he believed in. He was wrong on Vietnam, but right on civil rights.”
In addition to Patricia, he is survived by four children, including actor Eric Pierpoint, who has appeared in “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” and “Liar, Liar” with Jim Carrey.