ABOVE PHOTO: In this April 7, 2014 file photo, Bob Simon of “60 Minutes,” attends the New York premiere of “The Railway Man” in New York. CBS says Simon was killed in a car crash on Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015, in Manhattan. Police say a town car in which he was a passenger hit another car. He was 73. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
By Tom McElroy
NEW YORK — Longtime “60 Minutes” correspondent Bob Simon, who covered most major overseas conflicts and news stories since the late 1960s during a five-decade career in journalism, has died in a car crash. He was 73.
Simon was among a handful of elite journalists, a “reporter’s reporter,” according to his executive producer, whose assignments took him from the Vietnam War to the Oscar-nominated movie Selma. He spent years doing foreign reporting for CBS News, particularly from the Middle East, where he was held captive for more than a month in Iraq two decades ago.
“Bob Simon was a giant of broadcast journalism, and a dear friend to everyone in the CBS News family,” CBS News President David Rhodes said in a statement. “We are all shocked by this tragic, sudden loss.”
A Lincoln Town Car in which Simon was a passenger Wednesday night hit another car stopped at a Manhattan traffic light and then slammed into metal barriers separating traffic lanes, police said. Simon and the Town Car’s driver were taken to a hospital, where Simon was pronounced dead.
Police said Thursday that Simon was not wearing a seatbelt. They are not required in livery vehicles and it’s a common practice not to use them.
The Town Car driver suffered injuries to his legs and arms. The driver of the other car was uninjured. No arrests were made, said police, who continued to investigate the deadly accident.
“CBS Evening News” anchor Scott Pelley, his eyes red, announced the death in a special report.
“We have some sad news from within our CBS News family,” Pelley said. “Our colleague Bob Simon was killed this evening.”
“Vietnam is where he first began covering warfare, and he gave his firsthand reporting from virtually every major battlefield around the world since,” Pelley said.
Simon had been contributing to “60 Minutes” on a regular basis since 1996. He also was a correspondent for “60 Minutes II.”
He was preparing a report on the Ebola virus and the search for a cure for this Sunday’s “60 Minutes” broadcast. He had been working on the project with his daughter, Tanya Simon, a producer with whom he collaborated on several stories.
Anderson Cooper, who does occasional stories for “60 Minutes,” was near tears talking about Simon’s death. He said that when Simon presented a story “you knew it was going to be something special.”
“I dreamed of being, and still hope to be, a quarter of the writer that Bob Simon is and has been,” the CNN anchor said. “Bob Simon was a legend, in my opinion.”
Correspondent Steve Kroft said the entire “60 Minutes” team was shaken by Simon’s death.
“He was a great writer, he was a wonderful colleague, he was a gutsy reporter, a true gentleman and really a stylish, old-school journalist who knew the Middle East as well as any reporter on the map,” Kroft said Thursday.
“Nobody could replicate him. Nobody could do it his way,” said “60 Minutes” correspondent Lara Logan. “He had that unique touch that people just loved.”
Jeff Fager, executive producer of “60 Minutes,” said in a statement, “It is such a tragedy made worse because we lost him in a car accident, a man who has escaped more difficult situations than almost any journalist in modern times. Bob was a reporter’s reporter.”
Simon joined CBS News in 1967 as a reporter and assignment editor, covering campus unrest and inner-city riots, CBS said. He also worked in CBS’ Tel Aviv bureau from 1977 to 1981 and in Washington, D.C., as its Department of State correspondent.
Simon’s career in war reporting began in Vietnam, and he was on one of the last helicopters out of Saigon when the U.S. withdrew in 1975. At the outset of the Gulf War in January 1991, Simon was captured by Iraqi forces near the Saudi-Kuwaiti border. CBS said he and three other members of CBS News’ coverage team spent 40 days in Iraqi prisons, an experience Simon wrote about in his book “Forty Days.” Simon returned to Baghdad in January 1993 to cover the American bombing of Iraq.
Simon won numerous awards, including his fourth Peabody and an Emmy for his story from Central Africa on the world’s only all-black symphony in 2012. Another story about an orchestra in Paraguay, one whose poor members constructed their instruments from trash, won him his 27th Emmy, perhaps the most held by a journalist for field reporting, CBS said.
He also captured electronic journalism’s highest honor, the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award, for “Shame of Srebrenica,” a “60 Minutes II” report on genocide during the Bosnian War.
Former CBS News executive Paul Friedman, who teaches broadcast writing at Quinnipiac University, said Simon was “one of the finest reporters and writers in the business.”
“He, better than most, knew how to make pictures and words work together to tell a story, which is television news at its best,” Friedman said.
Simon was born May 29, 1941, in the Bronx. He graduated from Brandeis University in 1962 with a degree in history. He is survived by his wife, his daughter and a grandson.