RIP Ed Bradley

I met Ed Bradley in Vietnam. He was a journalist covering the war. I was there for other reasons.

Too many journalists in that war covered the conflict from the bars on Tudo Street in Saigon, drinking formaldehyde-injected beer in the company of Vietnamese B-girls while waiting for others to get back from the various fronts of the war so they could pump them for enough facts to send back stories that sounded like they were in the shit.

Not Ed Bradley. He spent most of his time in the field, reporting on the horrors of war first hand.

Ed hated sitting around. He loved the action. He gave up a plum White House beat for the network’s documentary unit so he could get back out in the field. A good reporter, he often said, "doesn’t sit on his ass waiting for the story to come to him."

But as much as he loved action, Ed Bradley also loved life. He lived it to the fullest, especially when it came to music. His friends included gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, Jimmy Buffett and many jazz musicians. He loved going on stage to sing the only song he could, an old blues riff called "Sixty Minute Man."

I remember meeting him in a bar in Washington and hardly recognizing him. He had scrapped his toupee and sported an earring.

"I’ve gone bald and native," he laughed.

"Ed Bradley was the coolest guy I have ever known," Bob Schieffer, CBS’s chief Washington correspondent and a close friend, told The Washington Post. "He knew everybody, from Jimmy Carter to Jimmy Buffett, Muhammad Ali and Tiger Woods. . . . People just loved him. Ed always had a kid with him, a godson or someone’s child. God knows how much money he gave away to charity. He was the softest touch in town."

Writes Patricia Sullivan in The Washington Post:

Bradley was a jazz-loving native of Philadelphia who rose from unpaid radio work to the most senior position on the most popular news program on TV. Tall and well-built, with close-cropped gray hair and beard, he had the tailored, seasoned look of a foreign correspondent but was always stylish, signified by the earring he sometimes wore.

He "was so good and so savvy and so lights up the tube every time he’s on it that I wonder what took us so long" to put him on "60 Minutes," producer Don Hewitt wrote in his book "Minute by Minute" (1985).

One of his last stories, which aired on "60 Minutes" on Oct. 15, investigated the Duke University rape case, scooping everyone with exclusive interviews with the accused lacrosse players and raising doubts about the prosecution’s case. The Duke story "had everything that in many ways defines this country — elements of race, sex and privilege," he told the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Gail Shister last month.

Some of his other notable stories included an insightful interview with golfer Woods, the only interview with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, a documentary on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and coverage of the Columbine High School shootings. He reported the reopening of the Mississippi murder case of 14-year-old Emmett Till, which reignited the civil rights movement in 1955.

As an interviewer, Bradley had the air of an interested and close listener. Although colleagues such as Mike Wallace and Dan Rather would pounce on a subject, Bradley would wait, letting his patience and silence draw out both nervous and experienced subjects. His questions were rarely accusatory but always pointed.

"[Richard] Clark has alleged that the Bush administration underestimated the threat from al Qaeda, didn’t act as if terrorism was an imminent and urgent problem. Was it?" he asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

His range of work was such that he once said, "If I arrive at the pearly gates and St. Peter said what have I done to deserve entry, I’d ask, ‘Did you see my Lena Horne story?’ "

He survived open-heart surgery but faced a more serious battle with lukemia, a disease few of his friends or co-workers even knew of. For all his public persona, Ed Bradley was a private man. But he was also one of the few journalists I respected and considered a friend.

He will be missed. God, he will be missed.

–Doug Thompson