On this day in 2012, broadcast journalist Mike Wallace, a full-time correspondent for the pioneering TV newsmagazine “60 Minutes” from its debut in 1968 until 2006, dies at age 93 in New Canaan, Connecticut. During his career, Wallace interviewed everyone from world leaders to Hollywood celebrities to scam artists, and was well-known for his hard-nosed style of questioning.
Myron Leon Wallace was born on May 9, 1918, in Brookline, Massachusetts. His parents were Russian Jewish immigrants and his father worked as a wholesale grocer and insurance broker. After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1939, Wallace was a radio news writer and announcer in Michigan and Chicago. He then enlisted in the Navy, serving as a communications officer during World War II.
In the 1950s, Wallace worked on TV talk shows and game shows in New York City, and also appeared in commercials and acted on Broadway. He developed his style as a tenacious interrogator on the TV interview show “Night Beat,” which aired from 1956 to 1957. In 1962, the eldest of Wallace’s two sons died at age 19 in a hiking accident in Greece, a tragedy that inspired Wallace to focus his career on serious journalism. In 1963, he became a correspondent for CBS News, and went on to report about the Vietnam War, among other stories.
“60 Minutes” premiered on CBS on September 24, 1968, and was co-hosted by Wallace and Harry Reasoner. The show, with its trademark opening sequence featuring a ticking stopwatch, became hugely popular and influential, spawning a slew of other newsmagazine programs, such as “20/20″ and “Primetime Live,” and ranking among the top 10 programs in the United States from 1977 to 2000. Wallace became known for investigative pieces in which he used ambush interviews and hidden cameras to uncover corruption and scams. He also conducted scores of memorable interviews with newsmakers ranging from Clint Hill, the former U.S. Secret Service agent who was in President John Kennedy’s motorcade when he was assassinated, to Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini during the 1979 American hostage crisis.
Some of Wallace’s reporting proved controversial. In the 1980s, he and CBS were embroiled in a $120 million libel lawsuit brought against them by General William Westmoreland for the way he was portrayed in a 1982 documentary about the Vietnam War. The general dropped the lawsuit in 1985, but Wallace later revealed that the pressure of the situation caused him to suffer a deep depression and attempt suicide. In another incident, Wallace’s 1995 interview for “60 Minutes” with tobacco industry whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand and CBS’s controversial handling of the story served as the basis of the 1999 movie “The Insider.”
Wallace retired from “60 Minutes” in 2006 at age 88, but continued to contribute occasionally to the program. His final piece aired in 2008–an interview with baseball pitcher Roger Clemens, who was accused of using performance-enhancing drugs.