Award-winning 60 Minutes producer Harry Radliffe II dies at 66

Harry Radliffe II was the first African-American to head a CBS News bureau and an award-winning 60 Minutes producer for 26 years

Mt. Athos: Harry Radliffe visits "another world"
60 Minutes producer Harry Radliffe II
CBS News

Harry Radliffe II, the first African American to head a CBS News bureau and an award-winning 60 Minutes producer for 26 years, died today. Radliffe was 66 and died at his home in Stamford, Conn., of colon cancer he was first diagnosed with in 2008.

Until recently, he had been working on a story for 60 Minutes about a special orphanage in Tanzania. The trip to Africa was his last for the program, one of the many that brought him joy and fulfillment during his 40 years in television news.

Radliffe traveled around the world to produce stories for the top CBS News correspondents, including Walter Cronkite, Ed Bradley, Steve Kroft, Bob Simon and Scott Pelley. As bureau chief in London in the 1980s, he supervised coverage of some of the biggest foreign news events of the time, such as the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, the rise of terrorism in Europe and turmoil in the Middle East. He contributed nearly 100 stories to 60 Minutes, where he won the Peabody award, television's highest honor.

He was a reporter who absorbed the world around him, discovering its truths and pleasures. As an international relations scholar, Radliffe brought a comprehensive knowledge of foreign affairs to the faraway places he covered, where he also found the finest museums, restaurants, hotels and the world's natural wonders. On his trip to Tanzania he took in the enormous expanse of the Ngorongoro Crater.

His colleagues at 60 Minutes came to count on him for his sage advice and contacts when they went overseas, especially for the best places to eat -- one of his favorite pastimes. He was a dear friend to many on the broadcast, especially 60 Minutes Executive Producer Jeff Fager, whom he befriended in London 30 years ago. Fager said this today:

"It is hard to imagine not having Harry with us anymore. He has been an essential part of our lives, our broadcast, and our entire news organization. His body of work is among the most remarkable and diverse in 60 Minutes history. He was elegant, decent and a wonderful friend to so many of us. We are all better off that Harry was in our lives. We will miss him very much. "

Radliffe was posted to London in late 1980 following his fine work as a producer in the New York Bureau, including producing one of CBS News' biggest scoops that year. He was chosen to accompany Cronkite to Pakistan to produce the news-making interview of Gen. Mohammed Zia Ul-Haq, the president of the volatile country on the brink of becoming a nuclear power.

His time working with Cronkite was formative. He later recalled in 2009, when he spoke at the memorial service for the CBS newsman: "The day I was asked to work for Walter, I cried from joy for finally having been asked and from fear that CBS News executives had made a huge mistake," Radliffe told the Lincoln Center crowd, with President Barack Obama sitting a few feet away. "That's what working for Walter and for CBS News meant. Back then CBS News wasn't really a job, it was more like a calling...The Jesuits come to mind..."

As an Evening News producer based in London, he did stories on the American hostages in Iran, the funeral of Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat, the war between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Falklands War in Argentina.

In perhaps the biggest moment of his career, Radliffe was traveling through Frankfurt airport on June 19, 1985, with Steve Kroft and a camera crew when a terrorist bomb exploded on the floor above them. They were the first journalists on the scene and shot a graphic report that led that night's evening newscast. Radliffe was quoted in a front-page New York Times story the next day. "As we came off the escalator a woman carrying a child came by. It was a child whose face was covered in blood," he said. "There were other people coming by who were in a state of shock. Some were screaming and some were crying."

A few months later in January 1986, Radliffe was named bureau chief in London, the largest CBS News office outside of New York.

He returned to New York in 1988 to become a senior producer for the CBS Evening News, supervising the gathering of news for the daily national broadcast.

Soon, Radliffe began one of the longest and most rewarding careers any producer could have at 60 Minutes. He began working with Harry Reasoner and Kroft -- also a newcomer to 60 Minutes -- and within a few years, he and Kroft reported a story about the only U.S. Gulf War combatant to be disciplined for a tragic friendly-fire incident. "Friendly Fire" won the Peabody Award.

Radliffe had a knack for finding compelling stories few others noticed but soon took center stage. In 1995 he produced the 60 Minutes segment "Derivatives," about the mysterious securities that played a critical role in the economic crisis over a decade later. He went to Venezuela in 2000 to produce a story on the country's youth orchestra system that mentored a talented teenager named Gustavo Dudamel. The dazzling young man went on to become conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and an international classical music star. Before the 9/11 attacks thrust Al Jazeera into the news, Radliffe went to Qatar to do a report on the obscure Arabic news channel.

His experiences in the Middle East in the 1980s made him the broadcast's most knowledgeable in the region, providing 60 Minutes viewers with stories that explained the area and its dynamics. Radliffe did reports on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the late 1990s and a profile of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu in 1999. His expertise and connections became more valuable after 9/11. He began providing the newsmagazine with steady reports from the Middle East, including profiles of Dubai and Qatar and a hard look at Saudi Arabia and its role in breeding Islamic Fundamentalism. He won an Emmy for "Aleppo," an October 2012 report he produced on the civil war in Syria.

Radliffe paid special attention to the Christian minority in the Middle East. He reported the plight of the Palestinian Christians and the persecution of the Copts in Egypt. His interview with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of the Orthodox Christian Church exposed the harsh realities of maintaining a Christian tradition in Muslim Turkey. This report led, after much effort on Radliffe's part, to an extraordinary 60 Minutes story about Mount Athos, a mysterious redoubt of Christian monasticism that had barely changed in centuries. It was the first time a television camera was allowed there in decades.

He began his career as a reporter at KGW-TV Portland, Ore., in 1973. He was only on-air a few years, but his broadcaster's baritone became useful again years later on 60 Minutes, where it could be heard in the English voiceovers of foreign language interviews.

In 1975, Radliffe began work at the CBS News Washington Bureau as assistant editor, but quickly moved over to ABC News as an associate producer, where he spent the next three years. He was then hired in New York to be a producer on "The CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite" in January 1979.

Harry Anderson Radliffe II was born in Indianapolis, Ind., January 1, 1949. He attended the local high school and went on to study briefly at Purdue and then the Jesuit-founded Universidad Iberoamericano in Mexico City. In 1971, he was graduated from Tufts University with a bachelor's degree in international relations and went on to the school's prestigious Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, from which he received his master's degree in 1973.

He is survived by his brother, Brian, and his sister Betty Jo Williams.

Plans for a memorial service will be announced in the coming weeks.