Mike Wallace, a legendary newsman known for impertinent, hard-nosed interviews on CBS’ popular “60 Minutes” television program, has died at age 93, the network announced on Sunday.
Wallace, whose 60-year career began in radio, spanned roles from wrestling announcer to quiz show host before making an indelible mark on US television journalism as an interviewer of the news makers who defined his times.
From Malcom X to Ayatollah Khomeini, Wallace cut to the quick with tough, abrasive, “who-gives-a-damn” questions that proved ground-breaking in US television journalism.
He honed his pit bull persona in an interview show called “Nightbeat,” beginning in 1959, and then brought it to “60 Minutes” when CBS launched that seminal television magazine show in 1968.
Wallace, who retired in 2006, racked up at least 20 Emmy awards and every other major prize for television journalism.
Some of his work also came in for criticism.
He and CBS were sued for libel by General William Westmoreland, a Vietnam War commander, for a 1982 documentary “The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception.” The suit was later dropped after CBS issued a statement saying it had not meant to question the general’s patriotism.
He also was accused of buckling to corporate pressure kill a story about a tobacco company whistleblower, which later became the basis of a 1999 movie “The Insider” with Christopher Plummer.
But he was remembered as an indefatigable journalist, active well into his 80s, who probed the lives of the world’s noted and notorious, fearlessly asking the impertinent question on everyone’s mind.
He interviewed Malcolm X shortly before his assassination, asked Ayatollah Khomeini if he were crazy, and interviewed Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2006 at the end of a 37-year stint with “60 Minutes.”
He had said that his favorite interview was with pianist Vladimir Horowitz, an encounter described Sunday in a CBS remembrance as a duel between “sly, manic egos.”
“All of us at CBS News and particularly at 60 Minutes owe so much to Mike. Without him and his iconic style, there probably wouldn’t be a 60 Minutes,” said CBS president and CEO Lesli Moonves in a statement.
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