Peter Jennings, the dry-witted, Canadian-born broadcaster who delivered the news for five decades, died Sunday of lung cancer, The Associated Press reports. He was 67.
Jennings died at his New York home, ABC News President David Westin told AP late Sunday. “Peter has been our colleague, our friend, and our leader in so many ways. None of us will be the same without him,” Westin said.
As the son of a Canadian newscaster, Jennings became the face of ABC News, joining Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather as part of a triumvirate that dominated network news. Jennings started first as a foreign correspondent, setting up an ABC bureau in Beirut and becoming an expert on the Middle East and then transitioned into the calm and rational anchorman on ABC’s World News Tonight, holding the position for more than two decades.
Two-thirds of local broadcasters responding to a 1993 survey by Broadcasting & Cable magazine said Jennings was the best network news anchor, AP reports. “There are a lot of people who think our job is to reassure the public every night that their home, their community and their nation is safe,” he told author Jeff Alan. “I don’t subscribe to that at all. I subscribe to leaving people with essentially–sorry it’s a cliché–a rough draft of history. Some days it’s reassuring, some days it’s absolutely destructive.”
“Peter was born to be an anchor,” Brokaw said Monday on NBC’s Today. He said he met Jennings in 1966 covering Ronald Reagan’s campaign for California governor and “we had an instant friendship.”
“Peter, of the three of us, was our prince. He seemed so timeless. He had such élan and style,” Brokaw said.
Rather, appearing on ABC’s Good Morning America tribute to Jennings, noted that beneath Jennings‘ polished exterior was a fierce competitor. “If Peter was in the area code, I didn’t sleep,” Rather said.
“He was a warm and loving and surprisingly sentimental man,” Ted Koppel, a longtime friend and fellow anchor told AP. Jennings deeply regretted not finishing school, and he would have wanted that lesson passed along, Koppel said. He made up for it by becoming a student of the world, studying cultures and their people for the rest of his life.
“No one could ad lib like Peter,” said Barbara Walters. “Sometimes he drove me crazy because he knew so many details. He just died much too young.”
Jennings, a longtime smoker, made the announcement in April that he would begin treatment for lung cancer–and it came as a shock to his loyal fans. “I will continue to do the broadcast,” he said, his voice husky, in a taped message that night. “On good days, my voice will not always be like this.”
Although Jennings occasionally came to the office between chemotherapy treatments, he never again appeared on the air. “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,” Westin said. “In the end, he was not.”
Jennings is survived by his wife, Kayce Freed, and his two children, Elizabeth, 25, and Christopher, 23.