Veteran NBC newsman Edwin Newman has died, according to the Associated Press, which received word from Newman’s family today that he died of pneumonia on Aug. 13. (The family delayed the announcement so that it could grieve privately.) Newman was 91 years old.
From 1952 through 1984, Newman was a familiar presence on the network, beginning as a foreign correspondent and eventually bureau chief in Rome and Paris, and filing stories like those of the ascension of Charles De Gaulle. In 1963, he made the first announcement of the death of John F. Kennedy via NBC Radio and offered that evening’s commentary, later doing the same for the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. (In 1981, he was also called upon to anchor reports of the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan.) Newman also served as a frequent panelist, interviewer, and occasional anchor on The Today Show, Meet The Press, and NBC Nightly News, moderated the presidential debates between Ford and Carter and later Reagan and Mondale, and was the only journalist to ever interview Emperor Hirohito. In his time, he covered many of the major events of the 20th century, from the Suez Crisis to the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War to Vietnam.
In addition to his reporting, Newman worked on (according to him) more documentaries than anyone else in TV history, and hosted the popular Speaking Freely, in which he conducted more than 250 hour-long conversations with everyone from Muhammad Ali to Ingmar Bergman. He also authored the best-selling books Strictly Speaking: Will America Be The Death Of English? and A Civil Tongue, both of which wittily excoriated those who would abuse the English language, as well as the comic novel Sunday Punch. Newman’s satirical sense of humor resulted in his appearing as himself in sitcoms like Murphy Brown, Newhart, and The Golden Girls and movies such as Spies Like Us and The Pelican Brief, as well as hosting Saturday Night Live, including appearing in a memorable skit in which he mans a suicide hotline and corrects the grammar of its callers. He spent much of his last years lecturing extensively on the business of news and arguing for the importance of journalistic independence.