TV anchor Peter Jennings dies at age 67

Tributes were pouring in on Monday for Peter Jennings, anchor of ABC's flagship network news show for more than two decades, who died of lung cancer on Sunday.

Tributes were pouring in Monday for Peter Jennings, the Canadian-born anchor of ABC's flagship network news program, who died of lung cancer on Sunday.

Jennings, 67, died at his home in New York.

"Peter brought to this battle all the courage and tenacity and good will that he brought to his reporting every day," ABC News President David Westin said Monday. "We all knew that this was an uphill battle from the beginning."

U.S. President George W. Bush was among those who offered words of remembrance.

"A lot of Americans relied upon Peter Jennings for their news. He became a part of life of a lot of our fellow citizens and he will be missed," Bush said Monday.

"He was a warm and loving and surprisingly sentimental man," said Ted Koppel, a fellow news anchor and longtime Jennings friend.

"I never saw anyone work so hard, do so much homework. If I knew the name of a person in the parade, he knew the name of the horse," said ABC colleague Barbara Walters. "He pushed us. He made us better."

The network made the announcement of his death just before midnight Sunday.

"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.

Jennings was forced to leave the anchor chair at World News Tonight in early April to undergo chemotherapy.

For more than two decades, he had been part of a trio of anchors – with Dan Rather of CBS and Tom Brokaw of NBC – who guided Americans through important news events on the major U.S. networks.

"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," he once told Jeff Alan, author of Anchoring America: The Changing Face of Network News.

"I don't subscribe to that at all. I subscribe to leaving people with essentially – sorry, it's a cliché – a rough draft of history. Some days it's reassuring, some days it's absolutely destructive."

His was the face known to ABC News viewers on all the big stories, including the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States. In the week that followed, Jennings anchored more than 60 hours and was widely lauded for his calm reassurance in a time of national crisis.

"Jennings, in his shirt sleeves, did a Herculean job of coverage," the Washington Post newspaper wrote.

As a reporter, Jennings reported from the front lines of many of the past half-century's most important events, including:

  • The conflict in Vietnam, where he was one of the first reporters on the scene, in the 1960s.
  • The civil rights movement in the southern United States during the 1960s.
  • The struggle against apartheid in South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s.
  • The flowering of the Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s.
  • The demise of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, including Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Romania.
  • Both the construction and the destruction of the Berlin Wall.

Yet despite his vast exposure to major international and domestic events, the veteran journalist seemed to have been particularly affected by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

When he retired from World News Tonight, Jennings told the show's viewers he had quit smoking 20 years earlier, but resumed the habit after the attacks.

The anchor, who was born in Toronto and raised in Ottawa, said he felt compelled to become a U.S. citizen two years after the attacks, though he retained his Canadian citizenship. Jennings said the events in New York and Washington strengthened his sense of connection to the United States.

Though over the years some "took cheap shots at him because he was Canadian," Jennings was always very proud of his citizenship," ABC News colleague John McKenzie told CBC News Monday.

Prime Minister Paul Martin was also among those who also paid tribute to the anchor, lauding him for a "long and remarkable career" that spanned numerous big stories.

"He will continue to be a source of inspiration for generations of young reporters to come," Martin said in a statement.

Jennings was known for his smooth and reassuring delivery from the most important desk at ABC News headquarters in New York. He dominated the ratings from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, when Brokaw surpassed him.

Jennings was born on July 29, 1938. His father, Charles Jennings, was a CBC Radio broadcaster who gained fame as one of Canada's first national news anchors and rose to become a CBC executive.

The younger Jennings got an early start in broadcasting, at age nine, hosting a weekly half-hour CBC Radio kids' show called Peter's People. He spent time as a radio news reporter in Brockville, Ont., and got his first shot at network news anchoring at the age of 23 when he was hired by CTV to host its late-night national news.

Jennings received many awards for news reporting over his career, including 14 national Emmys, two George Foster Peabody Awards and several Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards for excellence in broadcast journalism.

"Peter took his work very seriously but he did not take himself seriously," news colleague Dan Rather said Monday.

"He was very uncomfortable with the word 'star' and he was a little uncomfortable with the word 'anchor' because he really did think of himself as a reporter. He had the heart of a reporter and he had the will and the skill of a reporter. He died as he lived and reported, brave, principled, loving to his family."

Jennings lived in Manhattan with his wife, Kayce Freed. He had two children.