Morley Safer, Veteran CBS News Correspondent, Dies at 84

Image: Morley Safer
Morley Safer poses for a picture during the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame Awards in New York in 2008.Seth Wenig / AP file

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By Corky Siemaszko

Morley Safer, the legendary CBS News correspondent who retired last week after more than half a century at the network, died Thursday at his home in Manhattan. He was 84.

The death of Safer, who first made his mark covering the Vietnam War and then became one of America's best-known reporters during a 46-year career at 60 Minutes, was announced by CBS on Twitter.

Born in Toronto, Safer began his career writing for various Canadian newspapers before he jumped to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and embraced the then-new technology of television.

He joined CBS as a London correspondent in 1964, and the very next year he was sent to Saigon to open the network's new bureau and cover the war.

Not long after he got to Vietnam, Safer followed a group of Marines — who had dubbed themselves "The Zippo Brigade" after then ubiquitous cigarette lighters — on a "search and destroy" mission to the village of Cam Ne.

"They moved into the village and they systematically began torching every house — every house as far as I could see, getting people out in some cases, using flame throwers in others," Safer recalled years later in a PBS special report.

Morley Safer poses for a picture during the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame Awards in New York in 2008.Seth Wenig / AP file

Safer's report, broadcast on CBS News on Aug. 5, 1965, horrified Americans and helped turn public opinion against the Vietnam War.

An outraged President Lyndon Johnson rousted CBS chief Frank Stanton from his bed and told him they had "s--- on the American flag" and ordered a security check to see if Safer was a communist.

Safer later distinguished himself covering another horror show — the bloody Nigerian Civil War — before joining 60 Minutes in December 1970, the third year of the groundbreaking news show.

There, Safer interviewed everyone from presidents and potentates to Miss Piggy. He was one of the brightest stars in a constellation of TV reporting talent that included Mike Wallace and Dan Rather.

In a special tribute that aired Sunday, Safer made this startling admission: "I don't really like being on television."

From left, "60 Minutes" hosts Dan Rather, Morley Safer and Mike Wallace in 1975.CBS via Getty Images

But you'd never know it. Safer gleefully covered an eclectic range of stories — everything from tango dancing in Finland to riding the Orient Express, He pounded out his scripts almost to the end on an old-fashioned Royal typewriter and took special delight in interviewing actresses like Meryl Streep, Katharine Hepburn, and Helen Mirren, who dared him to strip with her and conduct the interview in the nude.

During his career, Safer won a dozen Emmys and numerous other awards and became a household name to generations of news watchers.

He is survived by his wife, Jane Fearer, and their daughter, Sarah Alice Anne Safer.

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