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Mike Wallace, '60 Minutes' star interviewer, dies

Mike Wallace, '60 Minutes' star interviewer, dies Click to Enlarge Photo:

Apr 8, 2012 at 11:38 am

NEW YORK (AP) — Mike Wallace didn't interview people. He interrogated them. He cross-examined them. Sometimes he eviscerated them.

His reputation was so fearsome that it was often said that the scariest words in the English language were "Mike Wallace is here to see you."

Wallace, whose pitiless, prosecutorial style transformed television journalism and made "60 Minutes" compulsively watchable, died Saturday night at a care facility in New Canaan, Conn., where he had lived in recent years, CBS spokesman Kevin Tedesco said. He was 93.

Until he was slowed by heart surgery as he neared his 90th birthday in 2008, Wallace continued making news, doing "60 Minutes" interviews with such subjects as Jack Kevorkian and Roger Clemens. He had promised to still do occasional reports when he announced his retirement as a correspondent in 2006.

Wallace, whose career spanned 60 years, said then that he had long vowed to retire "when my toes turn up" and "they're just beginning to curl a trifle. ... It's become apparent to me that my eyes and ears, among other appurtenances, aren't quite what they used to be."

Among his later contributions, after bowing out as a regular, was a 2007 profile of GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, and an interview with Kevorkian, the assisted suicide doctor released from prison in 2007 who died last year.

Wallace's "extraordinary contribution as a broadcaster is immeasurable and he has been a force within the television industry throughout its existence," Leslie Moonves, CBS Corp. president and CEO, said in a statement Sunday.

Wallace was the first man hired when late CBS news producer Don Hewitt put together the staff of "60 Minutes" at its inception in 1968. The show wasn't a hit at first, but it worked its way up to the top 10 in the 1977-78 season and remained there, season after season, with Wallace as one of its mainstays. Among other things, it proved there could be big profits in TV journalism.

The top 10 streak was broken in 2001, in part due to the onset of huge-drawing rated reality shows. But "60 Minutes" remained in the top 25 in recent years, ranking 15th in viewers in the 2010-11 season.

The show pioneered the use of "ambush interviews," with reporter and camera crew corralling alleged wrongdoers in parking lots, hallways, wherever a comment — or at least a stricken expression — might be harvested from someone dodging the reporters' phone calls.

Wallace maintained a hectic pace after CBS waived its long-standing rule requiring broadcasters to retire at 65. In early 1999, at age 80, he added another line to his resume by appearing on the network's spinoff, "60 Minutes II." (A similar concession was granted Wallace's longtime colleague, Don Hewitt, who in 2004, at age 81, relinquished his reins as executive producer; he died in 2009.)

Wallace amassed 21 Emmy awards during his career, as well as five DuPont-Columbia journalism and five Peabody awards.

He was married four times. In 1986, he wed Mary Yates Wallace, the widow of his close friend and colleague, Ted Yates, who had died in 1967. Besides his wife, Wallace is survived by his son, Chris, a stepdaughter, Pauline Dora, and stepson Eames Yates. His wife declined to comment Sunday.

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