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Newsman Jennings Dead At 67

Peter Jennings, the suave, Canadian-born broadcaster who delivered the news to Americans each night in five separate decades, died Sunday. He was 67.

Jennings, who announced in April that he had lung cancer, passed away at his New York home, ABC News President David Westin said.

"Peter has been our colleague, our friend, and our leader in so many ways. None of us will be the same without him," Westin said.

President Bush remembered Jennings as a distinguished journalist who became a familiar face in millions of households.

"A lot of Americans relied upon Peter Jennings for their news. He became a part of the life of a lot of our fellow citizens, and he will be missed," Mr. Bush said before boarding Air Force One for a trip to New Mexico to sign a major energy bill.

With

and NBC News' Tom Brokaw, Jennings was part of a triumvirate of evening news broadcast anchors who dominated U.S. network news for more than two decades, through the birth of cable news and the Internet. His smooth delivery and years of international reporting experience made him particularly popular among urban dwellers.

"He was a great pro, a loving husband and father, a loyal friend. Peter Jennings was one of the most talented, caring and successful journalists, not just TV journalists, of all time," said Rather.

"He was a fierce competitor, but a principled one. With Peter on the story, you always knew you weren't going to sleep very much because you had to have your eye on him all the time. But you also knew how ethical he was and what a passion he had for news."

Brokaw said Jennings "was born to be an anchor. … Peter, of the three of us, was our prince. He seemed so timeless. He had such elan and style."

Like Rather and Brokaw, Jennings wasn't entirely comfortable stuck in a studio. He traveled around the world to cover stories and, when he didn't journey to Asia to cover the aftermath of the tsunami less than four months before his cancer diagnosis, it was noticed.

Jennings was the face of ABC News whenever a big story broke. He logged more than 60 hours on the air during the week of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, offering a soothing sense of continuity during a troubled time.

"There are a lot of people who think our job is to reassure the public every night that their home, their community and their nation is safe," Jennings once told author Jeff Alan. "I don't subscribe to that at all. I subscribe to leaving people with essentially - sorry it's a cliche - a rough draft of history. Some days it's reassuring, some days it's absolutely destructive."

"My favorite picture of Peter," said former colleague Justin Friedland, "is no matter where you see him, no matter what he's doing, Peter's always got a reporter's notebook tucked into the back of his belt, just so in case he runs into somebody interesting, he's ready."

"First and foremost," said Friedland, a former ABC News producer, "Peter Jennings wanted to be a reporter. He wanted to tell people stories. He wanted to understand what was going on in the world and how it related to them. And I think that if people remember Peter that way, he'd be happy."

Jennings put his personal stamp on countless news stories - anchoring every major election since 1984, interviewing newsmakers from Anwar Sadat of Egypt to the Ayatollah Khomeni in Iran and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"No one could ad lib like Peter," said longtime ABC colleague Barbara Walters. "You would think that it was all scripted, he was so poetic, but it wasn't... Sometimes he drove me crazy because he knew so many details. He just died much too young."

"He really did make us raise our sights," said Diane Sawyer, another longtime colleague at ABC.

CBS News Early Show Anchor Harry Smith said Jennings' on-camera announcement last spring that he had cancer was handled with his usual grace and dignity.

"I will continue to do the broadcast," Jennings said, his voice husky, in a taped message that night. "On good days, my voice will not always be like this."

But it was to be the last time he would ever appear on television, although he continued to contribute behind the scenes whenever his health allowed.

"He knew that it was an uphill struggle. But he faced it with realism, courage, and a firm hope that he would be one of the fortunate ones," Westin said. "In the end, he was not."

Broadcasting was the family business for Jennings. His father, Charles Jennings, was the first person to anchor a nightly national news program in Canada and later became head of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.'s news division. A picture of his father was displayed prominently in Jennings' office off ABC's newsroom.

Charles Jennings' son had a Saturday morning radio show in Ottawa at age 9. Jennings never completed high school or college, and began his career as a news reporter at a radio station in Brockton, Ontario. He quickly earned an anchor job at Canadian Television.

Sent south to cover the Democratic national convention in 1964, the handsome, dashing correspondent was noticed by ABC's news president. Jennings was offered a reporting job and left Canada for New York.

As the third-place news network, ABC figured its only chance was to go after young viewers. Jennings was picked to anchor the evening news and debuted on Feb. 1, 1965. He was 26.

"It was a little ridiculous when you think about it," Jennings told author Barbara Matusow. "A twenty-six-year-old trying to compete with Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley. I was simply unqualified." Walter Cronkite was the long-time anchor on CBS, while the team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley co-anchored NBC's evening news program.

Critics savaged Jennings as a pretty face unfit for the promotion. Using the Canadian pronunciations for some words and once misidentifying the Marine Corps' anthem as "Anchors Aweigh," the Navy's anthem, didn't help his reputation. The experiment ended three years later.

He later described the humbling experience as an opportunity, "because I was obliged to figure out who I was and what I really wanted to be."

Assigned as a foreign correspondent, Jennings thrived. He established an ABC News bureau in Beirut, and became an expert on the Middle East. He won a Peabody Award for a 1974 profile of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

On the scene at the Munich Olympics in 1972, Jennings was perfectly placed to cover the hostage-taking of Israeli athletes by an Arab terrorist group. He and a crew hid in the athletes' quarters for a close-in view of the drama.

Jennings returned to the evening news a decade after his unceremonious departure. In 1978, ABC renamed its broadcast "World News Tonight," and instituted a three-person anchor team: Frank Reynolds based in Washington, Max Robinson from Chicago and Jennings, by then ABC's chief foreign correspondent, from London.

Following Reynolds' death from cancer, ABC abandoned the multi-anchor format and Jennings became sole anchor on Sept. 5, 1983.

Starting in 1986, Jennings began a decade on top of the ratings. His international experience served him well explaining stories like the collapse of European communism, the first Gulf War and the terrorist bombing of an airplane over Lockerbie, Scotland. He took pride that "World News Tonight," as its name suggested, took a more worldly view than its rivals. Fans responded to his smart, controlled style.

"When it's clearly an emotional experience for the audience, the anchor should not add his or her emotional layers," Jennings said in an interview with the Star Tribune in Minneapolis.

Two-thirds of local broadcasters responding to a 1993 survey by Broadcasting & Cable magazine said Jennings was the best network news anchor. Washington Journalism Review named him anchor of the year three straight years.

With Americans looking more inward in the mid to late-1990s, NBC's Tom Brokaw surpassed Jennings in the ratings. ABC was still a close No. 2, however. When Brokaw stepped down in November 2004, followed shortly by Rather at CBS, ABC began an advertising campaign stressing Jennings' experience — an ironic twist given how his ABC News career began.

But ABC was never able to learn whether Jennings could take advantage of his role as an elder statesman; his cancer diagnosis came only a month after Rather left the CBS anchor chair.

Jennings was proud of his Canadian citizenship, although it was occasionally a sore point with some critics. When Jennings spoke at the dedication of a museum celebrating the U.S. Constitution in 2003, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told him, "not bad for a Canadian."

Jennings whispered back his secret: He had just passed a test earning him dual citizenship in the United States.

"My decision to do this has nothing to do with politics," Jennings told The Associated Press at the time. "It has nothing to do with my profession. It has everything to do with my family."

Restlessly curious, Jennings pushed ABC News to use the turn of the century for a massive historical study. He co-wrote a book, "The Century," with Todd Brewster and anchored a marathon 25-hour special ending Jan. 1, 2000. Jennings and Brewster also traveled the backroads to write "In Search of America."

Jennings also led a documentary team at ABC News, which struck a chord in 2000 with the high-rated spiritual special "The Search for Jesus."

"I have never spent a day in my adult life where I didn't learn something," Jennings told the Saturday Evening Post. "And if there is a born-again quality to me, that's it."

He is survived by his wife, Kayce Freed, and his two children, Elizabeth, 25, and Christopher, 23.

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