Veteran newsman Mike Wallace dead at 93

Mike Wallace, who spent more than four decades as a hard-hitting, provocative news correspondent on “60 Minutes,” has died,CBS reported Sunday. He was 93.

“For half a century, he took on corrupt politicians, scam artists and bureaucratic bumblers,” CBS News said on its website. “… Wallace took to heart the old reporter’s pledge to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. He characterized himself as ‘nosy and insistent.'”

Wallace was already a veteran of the “CBS Morning News with Mike Wallace” and had covered most of the 1960s’ major news stories, including several assignments to Vietnam, when he was hired as a correspondent for the new television show “60 Minutes.”

The show debuted in September 1968. During Wallace’s nearly four-decade career on “60 Minutes,” he “sealed his reputation as a hard-charging, no-holds-barred interviewer,” according to the Knight-Wallace Foundation at the University of Michigan, of which Wallace was a supporter.

“His most memorable moments at ’60 Minutes’ have often been news-making events in their own rights.”

“There were very few 20th century icons who didn’t submit to a Mike Wallace interview,” CBS said. “He lectured Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, on corruption. He lectured Yasser Arafat on violence. He asked the Ayatollah Khomeini if he were crazy.”

Wallace’s 2005 interview with Jose Canseco “broke the Major League Baseball scandal wide open,” according to the Knight-Wallace Foundation. He also interviewed Roger Clemens in 2008.

In 2006, Wallace became a correspondent emeritus for “60 Minutes” and stopped appearing regularly.

“I’ve often replied, when asked, ‘I’ll retire when my toes turn up,'” he said in a statement at the time. “Well, they’re just beginning to curl a little, which means that as I approach my 88th birthday, it’s become apparent to me that my eyes and ears, among other appurtenances, aren’t quite what they used to be.”

The prospect of long flights to cover news is not as appealing, he said at the time.

“But CBS is not pushing me. I’ll be in a comfortable office on the same floor — just around the corner from where I’ve holed up for the past 43 years — available, when asked, for whatever chore CBS News, ’60 Minutes,’ the ‘CBS Evening News,’ have in mind for me.”

Myron Wallace was born on May 9, 1918, in Brookline, Massachusetts. His immigrant father ran a wholesale grocery business before becoming an insurance broker.

Wallace, who later traded Myron for the name Mike, liked sports and music. He reportedly fell in love with broadcast news at the campus radio station of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he studied broadcast news.

After graduating in 1939, Wallace launched his career at radio stations in Ann Arbor and Detroit, where he was as an announcer, and did talk and quiz shows, commercials and news readings.

The newsman was a communications officer in the U.S. Navy during World War II before landing a series of television jobs in Chicago, and trying his hand at acting. He and his then-wife, Buff, starred in the interview programs “Mike and Buff” and “All Around the Town.”

Wallace moved to New York and joined CBS in 1951. After leaving the network in 1955, he found success with the television series “Night Beat” and “The Mike Wallace Interview,” in which he challenged his guests with probing, confrontational questions. Wallace also narrated the documentary series “Biography.”

The 1962 death of Wallace’s son, Peter, in a hiking accident in Greece changed the course of his life, Wallace said. He decided to drop other projects and stick to news.

He interviewed presidents including George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy.

He also sat down with deposed Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega; the Shah of Iran, former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov and comedian Johnny Carson.

Wallace won his 21st Emmy for a 2006 interview with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and in 2007, he got the first interview with euthanasia advocate Dr. Jack Kevorkian.

“Mike Wallace is a legend in the news business,” said Anderson Cooper, anchor of CNN’s “AC360” and a contributor to “60 Minutes.”

“Tough, hardworking, he’d go anywhere to get the story,” Cooper said. “If I could have half the career Mike Wallace had, I would consider myself a very lucky man.”

In 1997, Wallace — to the surprise of his audience — described in a documentary his paralyzing bouts of depression that began in the early 1980s. He revealed that he was taking medication. The news seemed to contradict his energetic and focused work ethic.

He also told CBS’ Morley Safer that he once attempted suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills, according to CBS News.

Wallace was honored with a slew of awards. In 1991, he was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame.

In 2008, Wallace underwent successful triple-bypass heart surgery.

By the CNN Wire Staff

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