Peter Jennings, one of the most recognized faces in network news, died of lung cancer in New York on Sunday night at age 67, four months after announcing his illness on his final TV broadcast. The Canadian-born high school dropout held the anchor chair at ABC for more than 20 years and, along with fellow network anchors Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw, was referred to as one of the "Big 3."
Known for his dry wit and willingness to travel the globe in search of major stories, Jennings was the consummate professional, reportedly poring over every single script on his nightly broadcast to ensure it was up to par. A longtime smoker, he disclosed that he was suffering from lung cancer on April 5 in a written statement released by ABC and repeated that night by the anchor on "World News Tonight," where his voice was scratchy and noticeably weak. At the time, Jennings told viewers he hoped to return to the program if his health improved, but it never did.
Jennings was present at the fall of the Berlin Wall, on the ground during the major conflicts of the late 20th century and reported from all 50 states, but he is perhaps best remembered for his calm tone during the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. In an on-air marathon on the first day of the attacks — and with 60 hours logged onscreen in the week following — Jennings was a constant, reassuring presence on the air.
"He was a man who came into the anchor chair absolutely prepared to do the job, from years and years of reporting in the field, which is precious and not easily duplicated," Tom Bettag told The New York Times. Bettag competed against Jennings as executive producer of "CBS Evening News With Dan Rather" and later worked with Jennings as executive producer of "Nightline."
"He established a level of trust with the viewer that would be difficult for anyone else to match going forward," Bettag said.
He was born Peter Charles Jennings on July 29, 1938 in Toronto into a journalistic family; his father, Charles, was a senior executive of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and veteran of Canadian radio news. At age 9, Jennings already had his own radio show, "Peter's Program." He dropped out of high school at 17 and hosted a teen dance show called "Club Thirteen" while he was in his early 20s.
Jennings began a stint co-anchoring the national newscast on CTV — the competitor to his father's network — in 1962, a job he kept for two years before moving to the U.S. to start work as an ABC correspondent. He landed a three-year gig anchoring the daily 15-minute newscast "Peter Jennings With the News" at age 26, then spent the next decade as a foreign correspondent traveling the world.
In 1983, after sharing anchor duties with two other newscasters for more than five years, Jennings was named the sole anchor of "World News Tonight" as well as the senior editor of the show, titles he held until his death.