Good Night, David: TV Vet Brinkley Dies

06/12/2003 AT 11:35 AM EDT

Pioneering TV journalist David Brinkley, 82, who at his 1960s peak with on-air partner Chet Huntley was to NBC News what Walter Cronkite was to CBS, died Wednesday night, ABC News has announced.

Brinkley died at his home in Houston of complications from a fall, the network said.

The Washington-based Brinkley worked for ABC in the latter years of his illustrious career -- one that over time had earned him 10 Emmy awards, three George Foster Peabody Awards and, in 1992, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. At the time, then-President Bush called him "the elder statesman of broadcast journalism."

"If I was to start today I probably couldn't get a job," the radio-trained Brinkley, who spoke in a distinctly clipped voice, once said, "because I don't look like what people think an anchorperson should look like."

But starting in 1956, when NBC paired him with the handsome Huntley to cover that year's Democratic and Republican national conventions (for President Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson), a national institution was born -- as was, soon after, their signature sign-off, "Good night, Chet. Good night, David."

With Huntley in New York and Brinkley in D.C., NBC News ruled the ratings during the Kennedy era. As the Associated Press notes, during the 1964 Democratic convention, NBC won an astonishing 84 percent of the viewership against CBS rival Cronkite.

Born in Wilmington, N.C., Brinkley began his career as a high school journalist working on the hometown paper. After graduating from the University of North Carolina and Vanderbilt University, he went into the Army before working in southern bureaus for the United Press syndicate. Eventually, he became NBC's first White House journalist, the Associated Press reports.

His partner Huntley died in 1974, and in 1981 -- after 38 years at NBC -- Brinkley jumped to ABC News, where chief Roone Arlidge created the Sunday-morning political-affairs show "This Week with David Brinkley." He hosted the program until his retirement in 1997.

Brinkley, who was the father of four children, was divorced from his first wife, Ann, in the 1960s. He then married Susan Benfer in 1972.

The respected newsman summed up his career in the subtitle of his 1995 memoir titled, aptly, "David Brinkley": "11 Presidents, 4 Wars, 22 Political Conventions, 1 Moon Landing, 3 Assassinations, 2,000 Weeks of News and Other Stuff on Television, and 18 Years of Growing Up in North Carolina."

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