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Richard Threlkeld dies at 74

Car crash kills longtime CBS, ABC correspondent


Richard Threlkeld, a far-ranging and award-winning correspondent who worked for both CBS and ABC News during a long career, was killed in a car crash on Friday, Jan. 13, in Amagansett, on New York’s Long Island, when his car collided with a propane tanker. He was 74.

Threlkeld lived nearby in East Hampton.

He worked as a reporter, anchor and bureau chief for CBS for more than 25 years, heading to ABC News in 1982 but returning in 1989. Threlkeld covered the Persian Gulf War and the Vietnam War, the Patty Hearst kidnapping and trial as well as the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy and the execution of Gary Gilmore.

He was one of the last journalists evacuated from Phnom Penh and Saigon when those cities fell to the Communists in 1975.

CBS News correspondent Bob Simon was with him when Saigon fell. “Richard was old school in the best sense,” Simon said. “He really didn’t give a damn about being on camera. He didn’t do many standups. He always figured there was more interesting footage than himself.”

Threlkeld covered the presidential campaigns of candidates ranging from Barry Goldwater and Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s to Bill Clinton in the 1990s. He worked alongside Lesley Stahl as co-anchor of “The CBS Morning News” from 1977-79 and reported for “CBS Sunday Morning” from its inception in 1979, as well as for “The CBS Evening News With Dan Rather.”

“Richard Threlkeld had the kind of name and kind of looks that could have made him a reporter in the movies, but unlike a reporter in the movies, he could write his own scripts,” Stahl said in a statement. “In fact, he was one of our best writers and reporters.”

In a 1982 interview with the Associated Press, at the time of his move to then up-and-coming ABC News, he described CBS as “the Rolls-Royce of TV news — traditional, utterly dependable and very predictable,” while ABC is “like a Ferrari — real fast, not always predictable, but a lot of fun.

“At this stage of my life,” said Threlkeld, “I’m in a Ferrari mood.”

At ABC News, he reported for “World News Tonight” in a role he tailored for himself as a sort of roving news analyst.

On Friday, ABC News president Ben Sherwood called Threlkeld a “terrific writer and master storyteller … always full of ideas.”

After his return to CBS News, his final assignment there was as Moscow correspondent. From that experience, he wrote a book, “Dispatches From the Former Evil Empire,” published in 2001.

His last appearance on CBS was in 2004 on “Sunday Morning,” when he came out of retirement to help celebrate the broadcast’s 25th anniversary by doing a feature story.

Threlkeld originally joined CBS News in 1966 as a producer-editor based in New York. He had already worked at local stations in Louisville, Ky., and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Born in Cedar Rapids, he was raised in Barrington, Ill. He graduated from Ripon (Wis.) College and earned a master’s degree from Northwestern U.’s Medill School of Journalism.

During his career, he won several Emmy and Overseas Press Club awards and an Alfred I. du Pont-Columbia University Award.

He is survived by his wife of 28 years, Betsy Aaron, a former CBS and CNN correspondent; two daughters; a brother; and two grandchildren.

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