CBS News announced this morning that veteran broadcaster Mike Wallace died on Saturday night in New Canaan, Connecticut. He was 93 years old and had been ill for several years.
Wallace is best known as the fiercely persistent interviewer on CBS’s prime-time news program 60 Minutes, where he pioneered the confrontational “ambush” approach that became the hallmark of television newsmagazines. He joined the show as one of the original hosts in 1968 and continued as a regular correspondent until his retirement in 2006.
“Wallace took to heart the old reporter’s pledge to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” fellow 60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer wrote in an essay for CBS News, noting that few 20th century icons escaped Wallace’s interrogations. “He lectured Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, on corruption. He lectured Yassir Arafat on violence. He asked the Ayatollah Khoumeini if he were crazy.”
Born Myron Leon Wallace in Brookline, Massachusetts, Wallace began his career in broadcasting as a narrator and actor for the radio shows The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet. In 1956, he first exercised his confrontational style on a local New York news program called Night Beat, interviewing labor leader Mike Quill and mobster Mickey Cohen. Night Beat later evolved into a national show on ABC called The Mike Wallace Interview, where the network promoted Wallace as “the Terrible Torquemada of the TV Inquisition.”
In a 2006 interview, Wallace told The New York Times that he walked a “a fine line between sadism and intellectual curiosity.”
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Even after his retirement, Wallace continued conducting high-profile interviews for 60 Minutes, including those with Mitt Romney, Jack Kevorkian, and Roger Clemens, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Over the course of his career, Wallace won 21 Emmys and three George Foster Peabody Awards.