CBS News Legend Mike Wallace Dead at 93
Mike Wallace, a district attorney-style interviewer who made his subjects squirm for almost four decades on the CBS News institution 60 Minutes, has died. He was 93.
Wallace died peacefully Saturday night, surrounded by family members at Waveny Care Center in New Canaan, Conn., where he spent the past few years, CBS News spokesman Kevin Tedesco said.
“It is with tremendous sadness that we mark the passing of Mike Wallace," said Leslie Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Corp. "His extraordinary contribution as a broadcaster is immeasurable, and he has been a force within the television industry throughout its existence. His loss will be felt by all of us at CBS."
When CBS Evening News producer Don Hewitt pitched 60 Minutes to the network, he described it as “Life magazine of the air” and chose Wallace and Harry Reasoner as his co-editors and regular reporters. The show premiered on Sept. 24, 1968, and aired every other week at 10 p.m. Tuesdays before moving to every Sunday in 1972.
Wallace staked out a number of polarizing social and political issues with aggressive glee and saw every news story as a “drama built around value conflict.” His style was often to let the answer hang there for a few seconds to embarrass his subjects into revealing more.
His interviewees read like a who’s who of newsmakers: the Shah of Iran, Eldridge Cleaver, Nguyen Cao Ky, Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Deng Xiaoping, Manuel Noriega, the Ayatollah Khomeini, Menachem Begin, Anwar el-Sadat, Yasir Arafat, King Hussein, Muammar Qaddafi, Kurt Waldheim, H.R. Haldeman, Vladimir Horowitz, Itzhak Perlman, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Leonard Bernstein, Johnny Carson, Louis Farrakhan, Jack Kevorkian, Jose Canseco and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. That last one netted him, at age 89, his 21st Emmy award.
He received a Lifetime Achievement Emmy in September 2003.
Wallace, who also collected three Peabody Awards, retired as a regular full-time 60 Minutes correspondent in 2006 but appeared occasionally until 2008, when he retired from public life after a successful triple bypass operation.
“All of us at CBS News and particularly at 60 Minutes owe so much to Mike,” said Jeff Fager, chairman of CBS News and executive producer of the newsmagazine. “Without him and his iconic style, there probably wouldn’t be a 60 Minutes. There simply hasn’t been another broadcast journalist with that much talent. It almost didn’t matter what stories he was covering, you just wanted to hear what he would ask next."
Wallace was as famous as the leaders, newsmakers and celebrities who suffered his blistering interrogations. He won awards and a reputation for digging out the hidden truth on Sunday nights in front of an audience that approached 40 million at broadcast television’s peak.
He played a huge role in 60 Minutes’ rise to the top of the ratings to become the No. 1 program of all time, with an unprecedented 23 seasons on Nielsen's annual top 10 list -- five as the top show. A special program dedicated to Wallace will be broadcast April 15 on 60 Minutes.
Myron Leon Wallace was born May 9, 1918 in Brookline, Mass. An immigration officer mistakenly noted the family’s original surname — Wallik — as Wallace, when they emigrated from Russia.
With the American moniker, Mike Wallace graduated from Brookline High School and enrolled at the University of Michigan, where he worked his way through school performing a series of waiter/dishwasher-type jobs. Intending to become an English teacher, he landed a job as an announcer at the university radio station and became “trapped” in a media career, as he later jocularly acknowledged.
Following graduation in 1939, Wallace worked for $20 a week as an announcer for Wood Wash, a Grand Rapids, Mich., radio station owned by a combination furniture and laundry business. Caught between a stool and a soap bar, he migrated to Detroit, where he made his network radio debut as a narrator, announcer and sometime actor on such popular radio adventure series as The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet. With his authoritative, richly stern delivery, he was a natural.