Louis Rukeyser, a best-selling author, columnist, lecturer and television host who delivered pun-filled, commonsense commentary on complicated business and economic news, died Tuesday. He was 73.
Rukeyser died at his home in Greenwich after a long battle with multiple myeloma, a rare bone marrow cancer, said his brother, Bud Rukeyser.
As host of “Wall $treet Week With Louis Rukeyser” on public TV from 1970 until 2002, Rukeyser took a wry approach to the ups and downs in the marketplace and urged guests to avoid jargon. He brought finance and economics to ordinary viewers and investors, and was rewarded with the largest audience in the history of financial journalism.
“He brings to the tube a blend of warmth, wit, irreverence, thrusting intellect and large doses of charm, plus the credibility of a Walter Cronkite,” Money magazine wrote in a cover story.
Rukeyser also won numerous awards and honors, including a citation by People magazine as the only sex symbol of the “dismal science” of economics.
“Our prime mission is to make previously baffling economic information understandable and interesting to people in general,” he once said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Bud Rukeyser called his brother “a giant at what he did.”
“He was a pioneer in economic reporting in television. Right up to the time he got ill, he was at the top of the heap,” he said in a telephone interview.
Louis Rukeyser quit “Wall $treet Week” and moved to CNBC in March 2002 rather than go along with executives’ plan to demote him and use younger hosts to update the format.
Maryland Public Television, which produced the show, said it was firing him after he used “Wall $treet Week” to complain about his producers. He contended the station could not fire him because he was never its employee.
Less than a month later, he debuted with “Louis Rukeyser’s Wall Street” on financial network CNBC. The new show also aired on some PBS stations.
Neither his old show nor his new one lasted long after that.
Rukeyser’s last appearance on his CNBC show was Oct. 31, 2003, after which he went on medical leave for surgery to relieve persistent pain in his back. In May 2004, he announced that doctors found a low-grade malignancy during a follow-up exam.
Later that year, Rukeyser asked CNBC to end production of his show, which had continued with guest hosts. The PBS successor to Rukeyser’s show struggled, too, and Maryland Public Television pulled the plug in 2005.
“He has been a financial institution,” said Michael Holland, a New York fund manager and sometime Rukeyser guest. “No one can replace him. He brought financial journalism to a new level with his trademarks of honesty, humor and fairness. He always looked at both sides of the issues. His only bias was toward optimism.”
Rukeyser was born in New York on Jan. 30, 1933. He did not begin his career as a financial journalist, though his father, Merryle Stanley Rukeyser, was a columnist for Hearst Newspapers and International News Service for more than 30 years.
He graduated from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in 1954, specializing in public aspects of business. He was a political and foreign correspondent for the Baltimore Sun papers, chief political correspondent for the Evening Sun, chief of the Sun’s London Bureau and chief Asian correspondent for the Sun.
He also worked at ABC News as a senior correspondent and commentator, serving as Paris correspondent and chief of the London bureau.
Rukeyser, who published best-selling books and newsletters, rejected the idea that economics is “too dull and-or too complicated to hold an audience larger than the capacity of your average telephone booth.
“I think that’s nonsense,” he told the AP. “I think there is a hunger in the American public for clear, believable, understandable, usable pocketbook information.”
Rukeyser helped to popularize the often dull and arcane subjects of economics and finance with puns that drew appreciative groans from his audience.
Once while answering a viewer’s letter on investing in a hairpiece manufacturer, he said, “If all your money seems to be hair today and gone tomorrow, we’ll try to make it grow by giving you the bald facts on how to get your investments toupee.”
After a market slump, he considered changing the name of the show to “Wall Street Wake.”
“We have in America a bad tendency that things have to be either serious or fun,” he once told the AP. “Whereas in real life, this isn’t true. The teachers we all remember in high school and college were not the ones who put us to sleep. I don’t think any of us should apologize for not being dull.”
Rukeyser was survived by his wife, Alexandra, and three daughters.
A private funeral service was to be held this week, and his body was to be cremated, Bud Rukeyser said. Family members planned a larger memorial service in New York at a later date.