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A tribute to Ed Bradley, 1941-2006

Ed Bradley was a towering figure in television journalism, who, by just being so good at what he did, meant so much to so many. NBC's Brian Williams pays tribute.

When the news broke here in New York that Ed Bradley had died at 65, the words started spilling out of all those who knew him: Elegant, classy and generous. Funny and serious. Polite and tough. And brave until the end. Ed Bradley died of leukemia today, at a hospital in New York.

He was a towering figure in television journalism, who, by just being so good at what he did meant so much to so many.

"If he asked a tough question, they enjoyed it," says his CBS colleague Mike Wallace. "It was really true, and integrity was at the bottom of everything."

He was born in a tough part of Philadelphia at the start of World War II. He started in radio, before being hired by CBS News in Paris. He was then off to Saigon, where he was wounded in Cambodia while covering the Vietnam War.

Ed Bradley blew through racial barriers while he rocketed to the top: White House correspondent for CBS News, then 25 years at "60 Minutes."

He found a way to turn celebrities into human beings. He landed so many of the big interviews, and had fun with all the rest — Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, George Burns and Muhammad Ali, among them.

He loved good conversation, and jazz music. Howard Stringer knew Bradley for 40 years and was his longtime producer at CBS News.

"Somehow he stood there foursquare for all the virtues that you come to respect in our business," says Stringer, now chairman & CEO of Sony Corp., "and everything about him suggested integrity and perspective and thoughtfulness and caring."

He won every award, including 19 Emmys. He worked with the greats and traveled everywhere, and still found time to enjoy what life offered. Recent heart bypass surgery slowed him down a bit. Few people knew of his struggle with leukemia.

Ed Bradley was a happy soul -- a free spirit, who always said it was Liza Minnelli who talked him into getting his ear pierced, back when few men did.

But it was always his work that snapped the rest of us to attention. Off camera, he understood he was a role model, and in turn he was a mentor to countless others — who can today say they learned from the very best.

"You had a sense that it meant something, that it was worthwhile, it was meaningful," said Bradley about his war reporting in an October 2000 video produced by the Newseum in Arlington, Va.

Ed Bradley was a very private man in a very public line of work. Our thoughts are with his wife tonight.