WASHINGTON - Tim Russert, hard-charging host of NBC’s “Meet the Press” and one of the best-schooled political minds on network television news, has died of an apparent heart attack at the age of 58, NBC reported Friday.
Russert served as NBC News’ Washington bureau chief and moderator of the Sunday morning talk show “Meet the Press.”
He collapsed Friday while taping “voice-overs” for Sunday’s show, NBC News said.
Russert, schooled as a lawyer and trained in Washington politics, led not only the sharpest weekly debates on television, but also had become a master of the moderator’s chair in national and regional political debates.
He had joined NBC News in 1984 and took over the lead chair at “Meet the Press,” the longest-running show on television, in December 1991.
“Tim came here almost directly from Capitol Hill,” said Tom Brokaw, the retired longtime NBC anchorman, in a series of tributes from Russert’s colleagues. “I had never seen anybody brighter or more politically perceptive than this guy from Buffalo, N.Y.”
Among the first tributes, from the White House:
“Those of us who knew and worked with Tim, his many friends, and the millions of Americans who loyally followed his career on the air will all miss him,” President Bush said, in a statement issued by the White House from Paris.
“As the longest-serving host of the longest-running program in the history of television, he was an institution in both news and politics for more than two decades,” Bush said.
“Tim was a tough and hardworking newsman. He was always well-informed and thorough in his interviews. And he was as gregarious off the set as he was prepared on it Most important, Tim was a proud son and father.”
Russert was recording voiceovers for this Sunday’s show about the presidential campaign, featuring Senators Joe Biden of Delaware and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, when he collapsed, according to NBC.
He and his family had recently returned from Italy, where they had celebrated the graduation of Russert’s son, Luke, from Boston College.
Russert took over the longest-running show in the history of television, a program with a 60-year run, after serving on Capitol Hill as an aide to the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York. He also served as a vice president of NBC News and led its Washington operations.
In 2008, Time magazine named Russert him one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Russert, also an attorney, came from working-class roots in Buffalo, and had written a top-selling book about his father. Born on May 7, 1950, he was a graduate of John Carroll University and the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. He was a member of the bar in New York and Washington.
“And boy did he love Springsteen,” Brokaw said in a televised tribute Friday.
Russert had gone to work for Moynihan in his 1976 Senate campaign and in 1982 worked on Mario Cuomo’s campaign for governor of New York.
Joining NBC News in 1984, he started supervising live broadcasts of NBC’s “Today” show the next year and negotiated an appearance by Pope John Paul II, a first for American television. In 1986 and 1987, Russert led NBC News’ weeklong broadcasts from South America, Australia and China