Newscaster Tim Russert Dies at 58

NBC News' 'Meet the Press' Moderator Died Friday After Collapsing at Work


June 14, 2008 —

Journalists and politicans are reeling after the sudden death of Tim Russert on Friday.

"Thinking about tomorrow, that Tim is not going to be there, it's not something that is possible to accept," ABC's George Stephanopoulos said today on "Good Morning America." "It's almost impossible to believe."

"Those of us who knew and worked with Tim, his many friends, and the millions of Americans who loyally followed his career on the air will all miss him," President George Bush said in a statement.

"Tim Russert loved his country, he loved his family, he loved his job a lot," said President Bush from France.

Like many world leaders and politicians, Bush had been interviewed by Russert.

Russert, the veteran journalist best known as the moderator of NBC News' "Meet the Press," collapsed and died of a heart attack Friday while at work in Washington. He was 58 years old.

Russert had just returned from a family vacation to Italy with his wife, Maureen Orth, and son, Luke. They were traveling to celebrate Luke's graduation from Boston College.

Russert, vice president of NBC News, was recording voice-overs for Sunday's edition of "Meet the Press" when he collapsed, NBC said in a statement. A heart attack was the cause of death, according to Russert's doctor.

Known for posing hard-hitting questions to America's leading politicians and newsmakers, Russert joined the network in 1984 after working as an aide to New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

In his 24 years at NBC, Russert worked as a political analyst for "Nightly News" and the "Today" show, and served as the NBC News Washington bureau chief.

The longest-running host in the 60-year history of the "Meet the Press," Russert took the helm in 1991, earning a reputation for asking his guests tough questions, often playing them previous statements they had made that contradicted comments or positions they professed to have.

Russert was born in Buffalo, N.Y., on May 7, 1950, the son of a sanitation worker. He was a graduate of John Carroll University in Cleveland and later the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. In 1976, he went to work on Daniel Patrick Moynihan's Senate campaign, and in 1982 he worked on Mario Cuomo's New York gubernatorial campaign.

In 2001, he received the Edward R. Murrow Award for Overall Excellence in Television Journalism for his March 2000 interview with Sen. John McCain. In 2005, he was awarded an Emmy for his role in the coverage of the funeral of President Ronald Reagan.

In 2008, he was named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world.

Russert's father was the focus of the first of two New York Times best-sellers, beginning with "Big Russ and Me," published in 2004. His second book, "Wisdom of Our Fathers," published in 2006, focused on the roles other people's fathers have played in their lives.

In addition to Russert's wife and son, he is survived by his father, Tim Russert, who he affectionately called "Big Russ."

Russert wrote a best-selling book about his relationship with his father, "Big Russ and Me," published in 2005. A book reviewer in Time magazine wrote, "Grown men have trouble embracing their fathers in public. Russert hugs his for 21 chapters."

"His real genius was to always keep his father and his father's friends in work-class Buffalo in mind as he interviewed politicians," Stephanopoulos said. "He really knew how to bring it home in a real, accessible way."

Former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw announced Russert's death, calling Russert "our beloved colleague and one of the premier journalists of our time.

"This news division will not be the same without his strong clear voice. He'll be missed, as he was he loved, greatly," said Brokaw.

Russert famously boiled down the hotly contested 2000 presidential election when on election night he scribbled the words "Florida, Florida, Florida" on a white board, succinctly explaining where the election would ultimately be decided.

TV Guide named that moment one of the "100 Most Memorable TV Moments" and the Washington Post has credited Russert with coining the phrase "red state" and "blue state" to describe those states that typically vote Republican or Democratic.

Colleagues Mourn Russert's Death

Russert's colleagues at NBC expressed shock and sadness at their colleagues untimely death.

"We are heartbroken at the sudden passing of Tim Russert. We have lost a beloved member of our NBC Universal family, and the news world has lost one of its finest. The enormity of this loss cannot be overstated. More than a journalist, Tim was a remarkable family man. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Maureen, their son, Luke, and Tim's entire extended family," said Jeff Zucker, president and chief executive officer of NBC Universal.

Steve Capus, president of NBC News, called Russert's death "a loss for the entire nation.

"Everyone at NBC News is in shock and absolutely devastated. He was our respected colleague, mentor and dear friend. Words can not express our heartbreak. Our thoughts and prayers are with Maureen, Luke, Big Russ and all of Tim's family," Capus said in a statement.

Many of those politicians who found themselves on the sharp end of Russert's questions also took time Friday to praise him.

"As the longest-serving host of the longest-running program in the history of television, he was an institution in both news and politics for more than two decades. Tim was a tough and hardworking newsman. He was always well-informed and thorough in his interviews. And he was as gregarious off the set as he was prepared on it," President Bush said in statement.

Presidential contenders Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain, each of whom spent more than one occasion on the other side of the "Meet the Press" table, expressed their sympathies.

Both candidates called Russert "a friend."

"There wasn't a better interviewer in TV, not a more thoughtful analyst of our politics, and he was also one of the finest men I knew. Somebody who cared about America, cared about the issues, cared about family. I am grief stricken with the loss and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family," said Obama.

McCain echoed many of those same sentiments: "I am very saddened by Tim Russert's sudden death. Cindy and I extend our thoughts and prayers to the Russert family as they cope with this shocking loss and remember the life and legacy of a loving father, husband and the pre-eminent political journalist of his generation. He was truly a great American who loved his family, his friends, his Buffalo Bills and everything about politics and America. He was just a terrific guy."

George Stephanopoulos, host of ABC News' "This Week" and Russert's Sunday morning competition, said Russert "loved everything about politics and journalism -- because he believed in it.

"Every day he brought Washington home to his viewers, and made all of us better. My thoughts and prayers are with his family -- especially Maureen, Luke and his father Russ," Stephanopoulos said.

"He loved the game of politics and he was an unbelievably fierce competitor," Stephanopoulos said.

Around Washington and across the country, regular viewers of Russert's show expressed the same shock, sadness and admiration as those in journalism and politics.

"It was really a stunning loss. I was shocked. it was the last thing I expected to hear when my friend told me. Everybody knew Tim Russert. How can you not know Tim Russert?" said Elizabeth Searle, a Episcopal priest in New York.