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'World News Tonight' Anchor Dead at 67

By: Venton D. Blandin
By: Venton D. Blandin

August, 7, 2005

ABC News Anchor Peter Jennings died on Sunday at his home in New York City. He was 67. On April 5th, Jennings announced he had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

He is survived by his wife, Kayce Freed, his two children, Elizabeth, 25, and Christopher, 23, and his sister, Sarah Jennings.

In announcing Jennings' death to his ABC colleagues, News President David Westin wrote:

"For four decades, Peter has been our colleague, our friend, and our leader in so many ways. None of us will be the same without him.

"As you all know, Peter learned only this spring that the health problem he'd been struggling with was lung cancer. With Kayce, he moved straight into an aggressive chemotherapy treatment. He knew that it was an uphill struggle. But he faced it with realism, courage, and a firm hope that he would be one of the fortunate ones. In the end, he was not.

"We will have many opportunities in the coming hours and days to remember Peter for all that he meant to us all. It cannot be overstated or captured in words alone. But for the moment, the finest tribute we can give is to continue to do the work he loved so much and inspired us to do."

Reported World-Shaping Events

As one of America's most distinguished journalists, Jennings reported many of the pivotal events that have shaped our world. He was in Berlin in the 1960s when the Berlin Wall was going up, and there in the '90s when it came down. He covered the civil rights movement in the southern United States during the 1960s, and the struggle for equality in South Africa during the 1970s and '80s. He was there when the Voting Rights Act was signed in 1965, and on the other side of the world when South Africans voted for the first time.

Jennings has worked in every European nation that once was behind the Iron Curtain. He was there when the independent political movement Solidarity was born in a Polish shipyard, and again when Poland's communist leaders were forced from power. And he was in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Romania and throughout the Soviet Union to record first the repression of communism and then its demise. He was one of the first reporters to go to Vietnam in the 1960s, and went back to the killing fields of Cambodia in the 1980s to remind Americans that, unless they did something, the terror would return.

On December 31, 1999, Jennings anchored ABC's Peabody-award winning coverage of Millennium Eve, "ABC 2000." Some 175 million Americans watched the telecast, making it the biggest live global television event ever. "The day belonged to ABC News," wrote The Washington Post, "& with Peter Jennings doing a nearly superhuman job of anchoring." Jennings was the only anchor to appear live for 25 consecutive hours.

Jennings also led ABC's coverage of the September 11 attacks and America's subsequent war on terrorism. He anchored more than 60 hours that week during the network's longest continuous period of news coverage, and was widely praised for providing a reassuring voice during the time of crisis. TV Guide called him "the center of gravity," while the Washington Post wrote, "Jennings, in his shirt sleeves, did a Herculean job of coverage." The coverage earned ABC News Peabody and duPont awards.

Overseas, and at Home

Jennings joined ABC News on August 3, 1964. He served as the anchor of "Peter Jennings with the News" from 1965 to 1967.

He established the first American television news bureau in the Arab world in 1968 when he served as ABC News' bureau chief for Beirut, Lebanon, a position he held for seven years. He helped put ABC News on the map in 1972 with his coverage of the Summer Olympics in Munich, when Arab terrorists took Israeli athletes hostage.

In 1975, Jennings moved to Washington to become the news anchor of ABC's morning program "A.M. America". After a short stint in the mornings, Jennings returned overseas to Rome where he stayed before moving to London to become ABC's Chief Foreign Correspondent. In 1978 he was named the foreign desk anchor for "World News Tonight." He co-anchored the program from London with Frank Reynolds in Washington, D.C., and Max Robinson in Chicago until 1983.

Jennings was named anchor and senior editor of "World News Tonight" in 1983. In his more than 20 years in the position he was honored with almost every major award given to television journalists.

His extensive domestic and overseas reporting experience was evident in "World News Tonight's" coverage of major crises. He reported from all 50 states and locations around the globe. During the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 War in Iraq, his knowledge of Middle Eastern affairs brought invaluable perspective to ABC News war in Iraq and the drug trade in Central and South America. The series also tackled important domestic issues such as gun control policy, the politics of abortion, the crisis in funding for the arts, and a highly praised chronicle of the accused bombers of Oklahoma City. "Peter Jennings Reporting" earned numerous awards, including the 2004 Edward R. Morrow award for best documentary for "The Kennedy Assassination -- Beyond Conspiracy."

Jennings also had a particular interest in broadcasting for the next generation. He did numerous live news specials for children on subjects ranging from growing up in the age of AIDS, to prejudice and its effects on our society. After the events of September 11, and again on the anniversary, he anchored a town hall meeting for children and parents entitled, "Answering Children's Questions."

Jennings was honored with many awards for news reporting, including 16 Emmys, two George Foster Peabody Awards, several Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards and several Overseas Press Club Awards. Most recently, "World News Tonight" was recognized with two consecutive Edward R. Murrow awards for best newscast, based on field reporting done by Jennings on the California wildfires and the transfer of power in Iraq.

Jennings was the author, with Todd Brewster, of the acclaimed New York Times bestseller, "The Century." It featured first-person accounts of the great events of the century. In 1999, he anchored the 12-hour ABC series, "The Century," and ABC's series for The History Channel, "America's Time." He and Brewster also published "In Search of America," a companion book for the 6-part ABC News series.


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