60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley died of leukemia today at age 65. His condition was not widely publicized–he was still doing big pieces for the newsmagazine this fall, in his 26th season–so his death would have struck a chord regardless, but he will also be missed for who he was. It’s common for a famous journalist to get an outsized goodbye when he passes away–especially from other journalists–but Bradley was one TV-news star who, in an era of polarization and distrust of the media, people just liked.
It shouldn’t have to be said, but such is life, that Bradley was a rare and early example of a prominent, behind-the-desk and in-the-field African American in TV news. It was sadly fitting that, when CNN broke the news this morning, one of the anchors at the desk was Tony Harris, who, voice breaking, said Bradley was "first of all, an incredible role model for an African American in this business," such as Harris himself. There were few black TV journalists when he began his career, and while representation across the board has improved, 25 years after he joined the 60 Minutes staff, he remained one of the few true African American stars of TV news.
It would be an insult, though, to remember him only as "the black 60 Minutes star." He was a great interviewer, with a mellow but confident style that served well with subjects from artists to killers. And Bradley stood out as an unusual type: the hipster-journalist. He had a lifelong interest in music and worked as a jazz DJ in Philadelphia; he quit a job with WCBS in 1971, moved to Paris and wrote poetry; he was one of the few, and maybe the first, male TV journalists to wear an earring (and wear it well). These aren’t just interesting trivia points–well, maybe the earring is–they’re a sign of a diversity of interests, a broad cultural curiosity and an intellectual adventurism that is too rare among journalists in an age of hyperprofessionalism and wonky, laser-like specialization in a particular beat.
Bradley’s death continues an ongoing changing of the guard at 60 Minutes, also marked by the departure of Dan Rather and the stepping back of Mike Wallace, among other shifts. At this point, the newsmagazine is probably more about the brand than its people, and it will continue on. But the TV journalism business just got a little less interesting.