More than one member of the 60 Minutes staff let out a gasp at noon on Nov. 9, when executive producer Jeff Fager delivered the devastating news: An hour earlier Ed Bradley, the elegant, earringed correspondent whose penetrating reportage graced the program for a quarter-century, had died at Manhattan's Mount Sinai Medical Center from complications of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Unbeknownst to all but a few intimates, Bradley, 65, had lived with the disease—a cancer of the white blood cells—for years, but recently took a turn for the worse when pneumonia set in. And so his death came as a shock to most colleagues, including 60 Minutes creator Don Hewitt.

"There were an awful lot of tears, a lot of hugging each other," says Hewitt. "I don't remember anything like that ever happening around here."

A trailblazing African-American journalist and 20-time Emmy winner, Bradley covered the Vietnam war and the Carter White House, and also anchored the CBS Sunday Night News before coming to 60 Minutes in 1981. In that cauldron of egos, he built his own legend alongside the likes of Mike Wallace and Morley Safer. "He was a bit of a rock star," Fager says. "But it never went to his head."

Apart from his many investigative pieces, Bradley interviewed the famous and infamous, from Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh to a flirty encounter with Lena Horne. Known for his devilish wit, Bradley was a connoisseur of music (particularly jazz and Louisiana zydeco), fine food and wine. He loved the New York Knicks, and hung with an eclectic group including singer Jimmy Buffett, who was at the hospital along with Bradley's wife, Patricia Blanchet, when he died.

Twice divorced, the Philadelphia-born Bradley met Blanchet, now 41, a dozen years ago at an art museum benefit; they wed in 2004, the year after she'd helped him recover from a quintuple bypass. He was wrapping up his final 60 Minutes piece when he was hospitalized on Oct. 29. National Public Radio contributor Charlayne Hunter-Gault was among the friends and family with him at the end. "My husband asked, 'How are you doing?' and Ed said, 'I'm gonna kick this mother——!' It was so Ed." But as longtime 60 Minutes colleague Lesley Stahl recalls, the tough reporter also had a softer side. "He ordered little bouquets, every single week, round vases stuffed with flowers of the season," she says. "They sat on the edge of his desk. They were beautiful."