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Peter Jennings dies of lung cancer


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Peter Jennings dies of lung cancer

Longtime ABC News anchor was 67

Sunday, August 7, 2005; Posted: 11:51 p.m. EDT (03:51 GMT)

Peter Jennings

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Nearly four months to the day since he announced in a hoarse voice on his evening newscast that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer, longtime ABC "World News Tonight" anchor Peter Jennings died Sunday, according to the ABC news network. He was 67.

At a time when all three major broadcast networks saw their evening news anchor spots change hands in less than a year, Jennings' departure was a surprise. Both NBC's Tom Brokaw and CBS' Dan Rather announced their plans well in advance, but Jennings' illness forced a quick decision.

Jennings, a native Canadian who became a U.S. citizen in 2003, said he would continue to host "World News Tonight" when possible. Since the announcement, ABC News' Charles Gibson and Elizabeth Vargas have filled in for him as temporary anchors.

But he said he was determined to fight the disease, citing National Cancer Institute statistics that nearly 10 million Americans are living with cancer. "I have a lot to learn from them, and 'living' is the key word," he said.

Since April 5, when Jennings announced his diagnosis on the news program, he kept his public comments positive. Even during the initial announcement, he said he would be undergoing chemotherapy and joked about losing his hair.

"I wonder if other men and women ask their doctors right away, 'OK, doc, when does the hair go?'" said the immaculately dressed and coifed Jennings.

He admitted being a smoker until about 20 years ago, and said he "was weak and I smoked over 9/11."

In an April 29 letter posted on the ABC News' site, Jennings said he had been "spoiled rotten" by well-wishers and added, "I assume there are a few others out there who, like me, are going with the flow until the day gets better."

Since he began anchoring the program in 1983, Jennings won numerous awards, including a National Headline Award and a George Foster Peabody award. He also won some 14 Emmys, according to the ABC News Web site.

Asked how it felt after anchoring ABC's evening news program for 20 years, Jennings told CNN's Larry King on Sept. 8, 2003, "Seems like yesterday; seems like forever -- all at the same time."

"It's sort of, how do you measure it? Do you measure the fact that I'm 20 years older? No. I think I measure it by the events. You know, I came just as the Cold War was coming to an end."

"When you think about the events that we've been through, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to, I guess you'd say, 9/11 being the culmination at the end of that, of that scope, what extraordinary changes there have been."

Jennings was born July 29, 1938 in Toronto with journalism in his blood. His father, Charles, was the first voice of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation when it was established in the mid-1930s. At age 9, Jennings hosted "Peter's People," a short-lived Saturday morning children's show on the CBC.

A high school dropout, Jennings worked as a bank teller for several years before moving into radio and then into television in 1961. He was hired by ABC in 1964.

The following year, when he was 26, Jennings was picked to anchor "The ABC Evening News." But two years later, he told his bosses he needed more seasoning and returned to field reporting, CNN Correspondent Jeff Greenfield, a former ABC News employee, has said.

He became a foreign correspondent for the network, covering such stories as the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, when members of the Arab terrorist group Black September seized the Israeli compound and took athletes hostage.

After he took the anchor chair of World New Tonight, Jennings led ABC's coverage of the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

"On 9/11, those of us who do the jobs that I do, flew without a net for hour and hour and hour after end. And then you hope and pray that you've had the experience to be up to it. Because then you're editor, analyst, reporter, correspondent, ringmaster, the whole thing.

An ABC spokesman said in April that Jennings had been feeling ill for a couple of months and underwent a number of tests before the diagnosis was made. He did not travel to cover the tsunami in South Asia in December 2004 or the death of Pope John Paul II earlier this year.

When the announcement of Jennings' diagnosis was made, ABC did not divulge the stage of his cancer. Cancer stages range from 1 to 4, with 4 being the most advanced.

The network's "World News Tonight" Web site has maintained an online forum where viewers could post expressions of support and good wishes for Jennings. It has also posted statements from Jennings thanking viewers for their support and his thoughts on topics such as the recent terrorist bombings in London.

The last posting came on July 29, Jennings' birthday. "Many thanks to all of you for your birthday wishes," the statement from Jennings said. "Your words -- as always -- are a great source of strength. I am celebrating today with my family -- we are all grateful."


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