Once-Popular News Anchors Who Sadly Died

"A reporter is always concerned with tomorrow. There's nothing tangible of yesterday," so said legendary broadcaster Edward R. Murrow. But what if there is no tomorrow? It is a news anchor's job to crystalize the emerging events of the moment. It's for this reason that they become a ubiquitous presence in our lives, and their absence is palpable once they are no longer with us.

Audiences forge relationships with long-term news anchors because they become part of our daily rituals, embedded in the local and national psyche as much as the news itself. The role affords them the ability to inform as well as entertain, establishing their own niche and bringing their unique personalities to the fore. So, when a news anchor tragically passes away, it can leave us feeling like we've lost a close friend or relative.

As many fans build parasocial relationships with celebrities, we may mourn their deaths as if we knew them. Though this is more often than not the case with Hollywood A-listers and beloved musicians, it's also present with news anchors, who become celebrities in their own right, be they local heroes or internationally renowned stars. Let's take a trip down memory lane with a Kleenex at hand as we remember once-popular news anchors who sadly died.

Lesley Swick Van Ness

Though Lesley Swick Van Ness died young, she achieved a remarkable amount in her all-too-brief lifetime. With a career spanning 20 years, she was a much loved fixture of the Illinois-based station WGEM-TV. Serving as an evening news anchor for over ten years, during which time her reportage saw her winning accolades and acclaim, her untimely death came as a shock to her colleagues.

In 2023, Van Ness was on vacation with her family in Florida when she became unwell. She was rushed to hospital, where she died after succumbing to an undisclosed illness. The 42-year-old was survived by her parents, her husband, Tom, and her two young children. "In the eyes of a small community she was a celebrity," a friend wrote on her Legacy obituary. "That was a title well deserved. She did her job with integrity. Lesley will always hold a place in our hearts."

Colleagues and friends paid tribute to Van Ness' commitment to her community, which manifested through her resolute and indefatigable character. "She wasn't afraid to do the dirty work and wasn't afraid to work the extra hour, especially if it was something that was really impacting the community," her colleague, Brian Inman, told WGEM.

John Roland

For four decades, John Roland served as a popular Fox news anchor unafraid of ruffling a few feathers. Famed for covering Charles Manson's murder trial in 1971, he also gained notoriety when he attempted to wrestle with four armed robbers at a bar near his workplace in 1983. Though he successfully foiled the crime, he was injured in the process and hospitalized. "Before I knew what was going on ... I grabbed the gun and we were on the floor," he told Fox 5 following the incident. "All of a sudden I felt another gun on the side of my eye." Though Roland believed he would die that night (he later received 36 stitches on his head), the robbers were soon apprehended.

This wouldn't be the last contentious event in Roland's career. While working as an anchor for WNYW-TV in 1988, he was suspended following an argument with Joyce Brown, a homeless woman who had been detained in a mental health facility for nearly three months. Brown insisted that she was homeless, not sick, but Roland claimed that he had seen her on the streets of New York acting erratically on numerous occasions.

Following his colorful and controversial career, Roland retired in 2004. He died of a stroke in 2023, aged 81. Paying tribute to his late colleague, Ted Kavanau told The New York Times that Roland was "a Jimmy Stewart type. An American Everyman that somehow finds himself thrust into the limelight and makes a surprisingly strong impression."

Peter Jennings

A prolific broadcaster, ABC's Peter Jennings was hailed among the "Big Three" news anchors, along with NBC's Tom Brokaw and CBS' Dan Rather. He reported on a number of major historical events, including the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Gulf War, and the Bosnian War. While reporting on the latter, he was credited with rescuing a young boy from war-torn Sarajevo, who was re-homed in the US. Famously, he covered the 9/11 terror attacks, a task which bore its toll on him as a newscaster required to remain stoic and impartial. "I almost lost it a couple of times on 9/11... I think it made me think of a lot of families, and their children," he reflected, per Slate.

In 2005, he announced that he had lung cancer. Despite giving up a lifelong smoking habit decades earlier, Jennings, whose voice was noticeably and uncharacteristically raspy, revealed that he was so heavily affected by 9/11 that he began smoking again. Following his diagnosis, he underwent chemotherapy, hoping that he could continue with his career. "He knew that it was an uphill struggle," his colleague David Westin said, per ABC News. "But he faced it with realism, courage, and a firm hope that he would be one of the fortunate ones. In the end, he was not."

Just four months later, he died aged 67. A memorial was held for the news anchor at Carnegie Hall, with acclaimed musicians Yo-Yo Ma and Wynton Marsalis performing in tribute to Jennings.

Tim Russert

As host of the talk show "Meet the Press," Tim Russert became a bonafide celebrity of NBC News. Famed for his blue collar persona (he hailed from a working class family in Buffalo, New York), he was credited with challenging the stuffy image of the traditional news anchor. "He didn't look like your average anchorman," fellow anchor Wolf Blitzer told the Los Angeles Times. "He didn't have the hair or the looks. He was just a smart guy, and he cut through all the B.S."

Throughout his illustrious career, he covered a number of significant political scandals, including the Clinton-Lewinsky affair and George W. Bush's contentious assertion that the Iraqi government had weapons of mass destruction, confronting the president head on. He once again brought up the Lewinsky scandal when moderating a debate between Hillary Clinton and Rick Lazio in 2000, calling the former's character into question due to her denial of her husband's affair with the White House intern.

In 2008, NBC's Tom Brokaw broke the news that Russert had died after collapsing at work. He was 58. His death was attributed to coronary thrombosis, exacerbated by Russert having an enlarged heart. "Thinking about tomorrow, that Tim is not going to be there, it's not something that is possible to accept," said George Stephanopoulos, per ABC. "It's almost impossible to believe." His funeral  was attended by prominent individuals from across the political spectrum, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and his political rival John McCain.

Katherine Creag

From 2011 until her death in 2021, Katherine Creag was a popular news reporter for NBC New York. She hosted "New York Today" in the wee small hours of the morning, greeting early birds in the Big Apple with her boundless energy. The anchor braved the extremities of New York City's often erratic climate, fulfilling her reporting duties come rain or shine. During the coronavirus pandemic, she remained steadfastly committed to the job she loved, reporting on how her city was hit particularly hard due to the virus. It was during the pandemic that Creag died unexpectedly, aged 47. 

In February 2021, the news anchor passed away mere days after her final onscreen report. She did not appear ill at the time, and reportedly had no history of poor health. "For 10 years Kat was one of our cornerstones," WNBC's Amy Morris said, per NBC, adding, "always willing to help in any situation, whether it was a colleague in need or a shift that needed to be covered ... And even on the toughest days she was a bright light, quick with a kind word and a smile." 

She was survived by her husband, Bill, and their three young children. According to her obituary on Dignité, she died of a cardiopulmonary condition. Her loved ones remembered her as an ebullient woman who lived for reality TV and girly nights out with her pals, and loved 90s hip-hop as much as she relished attending Taylor Swift concerts with her kids.

Bill Turnbull

British broadcaster Bill Turnbull was beloved among fans for his work as an anchor on BBC News, as well as his soothing presence on "Classic FM." Though Turnbull was famed for his affable and easygoing persona, he was also highly adept at tackling gritty news stories. For instance, he reported on decade-defining moments, such as the OJ Simpson murder trial and, like Tim Russert, the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.

In 2018, the then 62-year-old announced that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, which had spread to his bones, and was undergoing chemotherapy. "You have to be positive, don't you?" he told Radio Times. "I know I'm not going to get cured and I'm realistic about the long-term prospects, but they're not bad."

That year, he appeared in a video for "Stand Up to Cancer" as part of the celebrity edition of "The Great British Baking Show," opening up about life with a terminal illness. "I remember my daughter came and I said, 'Well, I've got to tell you — I've got cancer,'" he said, per the Evening Standard. "And I had to tell my sons on the phone... we all cried. If it was to all end tomorrow I would not feel hard done by because I've had an amazing life." His appearance resonated with viewers, who encouraged others to get checked for prostate cancer. Four years later, he died, aged 66. His BBC colleagues paid tribute, commending his unwavering optimism, warmth, and cheeky sense of humor.

Bernard Shaw

In addition to being the first chief news anchor for CNN, broadcasting pioneer Bernard Shaw was one of the network's first Black reporters in a prime time spot. He gained recognition for his coverage of major historical events, most notably the Tiananmen Square protests and the Gulf War. He reported on Tiananmen Square from the front line, trapped in darkness for hours. His coverage of the Gulf War also proved iconic, with Shaw famously and poetically declaring, "The skies over Baghdad have been illuminated ... We're getting starbursts. Seeming starbursts in the black sky." In a 2014 interview with NPR, he admitted that, for the first time in his career, his stoicism was tested when reporting on the outbreak of the war. "In all the years of preparing to being anchor, one of the things I strove for was to be able to control my emotions in the midst of hell breaking out," he explained. "And I personally feel that I passed my stringent test for that in Baghdad."

Shaw also generated headlines for stirring up controversy when moderating the 1988 presidential debate between Michael Dukakis and George H.W. Bush. He was heavily condemned for asking Dukakis, an opponent of the death penalty, whether he would change his stance if his wife was murdered, with the presidential hopeful replying in the negative.

In 2022, he died of pneumonia, aged 82. In a statement to CNN, Shaw's former colleague, Tom Johnson, hailed him as "a fierce advocate of responsible journalism."

Neena Pacholke

Neena Pacholke made a name for herself as a news anchor at Wisconsin's News 9. In the early hours of the morning, viewers were greeted by Pacholke's beaming countenance, and she in turn acquired a loyal fan base. But behind that contagious smile and light-hearted demeanor, the anchor hid her personal turmoil from both the public and her loved ones.

In 2022, Pacholke died at her home, aged just 27. Police later confirmed that she died by suicide. At the time of her passing, she had been engaged to her partner of two years, Kyle Haase. The Daily Mail reported that Pacholke became severely distressed after she and her fiancé called it quits shortly before their scheduled wedding date.

Her sudden death came as a shock to those who knew and loved her. "My sister was by far the happiest person I thought I knew," her sister, Kaitlynn, told the Tampa Bay Times. "Sometimes you just don't know what people are going through, no matter how much you think you know someone ... My sister had access to every resource you could imagine. She was loved by everybody. She was so good at her job." Subsequently, her colleagues encouraged others to look after their mental health; in tribute to the late anchor, the News 9 team announced on Facebook that they would be participating in a Walk for Suicide and Mental Health Awareness. "[We] want to raise awareness and destigmatize mental health issues. You're not alone!" the post read.

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Chris Burrous

With his dapper demeanor, complete with slicked back hair and impeccable suits, KTLA's Chris Burrous harked back to the news anchors of yore. He was known for his much loved "Burrous Bites" segments in which he enthusiastically sampled the cuisine of local restaurants.

In 2018, just two days after Christmas, Burrous was found dead in a motel room in California. He was 43. It was later determined that he died of drug intoxication following a sexual encounter with a man, whom he'd met on the popular dating app Grindr. Tributes poured in following his untimely death, with colleagues commending his versatility and relatability as a news anchor. "What Chris Burrous did was connect — with all of us, every day ... A large community is in mourning tonight," tweeted KTLA's Sam Rubin.

Following his death, his wife set up a GoFundMe to help raise money for funeral expenses. "The Big Bang Theory" star Kunal Nayyar donated $5,000 to the fundraiser. At Burrous' funeral, his daughter Isabella, then aged nine, paid a moving tribute to him. "In my heart, he's still there and alive and I hope he is for all of you, too," she said, per KTLA. Burrous' colleague, Wendy Burch, comforted Isabella with tales of her father's unwavering commitment to his craft, which endeared the public towards the popular anchor. "I think that was your dad's gift — he could take just this tiny, tiny, little story and make it so interesting for all of us," Burch reflected.

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Barbara Walters

A renowned broadcaster, journalist, and the creator of "The View," Barbara Walters was nothing short of legendary. She started out as an anchor for NBC's "Today" in 1962, an experience that she lamented was marred by sexism. "When I was on the Today show, which was in the Middle Ages, they did what we would call the tea-pouring interview," she quipped to Bloomberg. A barrier-breaking star, in 1976 she was hired by ABC News, becoming the first female news anchor in the US. "The signal to women reporters had long been that you could be serious or you could be interesting," The New York Times writer Katherine Rosman told The Washington Post. "She refused to be pigeonholed like that, and she allowed for many women who came after her to be both."

Having interviewed everyone from Fidel Castro to John Lennon's killer, Mark David Chapman, she remains best known for her sit-down with Monica Lewinsky in 1999, which was one of the most watched interviews of all time.

And as an anchor for ABC, the veteran broadcaster interviewed those from the highest echelons of the entertainment biz. Notably, she was criticized following a 2000 interview with Ricky Martin, in which she pressed the singer on his sexuality at a time when he wasn't ready to come out. She later told The Star that the line of questioning was one of her biggest career regrets. Walters died in 2022, aged 93, leaving behind a legacy both illustrious and iconic.

Uma Pemmaraju

As one of the original Fox News hosts following its launch in 1996, Uma Pemmaraju gained national recognition as one of the few Indian-American women reporting for a major news outlet. Throughout her esteemed career, she interviewed everyone from the Dalai Lama to former Republican presidential hopeful Dr. Ben Carson.

Soon, she became a celeb news anchor, but she was the first to admit that with great power comes even greater responsibility. Indeed, she was particularly interested in covering stories that highlighted the plight of the marginalized. Accordingly, speaking to the Boston Globe in 1993, she discussed how she sought to use her high profile status for good. "I'm a conduit to help other people," she explained. "I don't want to sound too sentimental. But that's what I'm about. I want to use my celebrity to help people, to help bring about something that needs to be done."

She died in 2022, aged 64. Following her death, colleagues lauded her kindness and generosity. "Uma was an incredibly talented journalist as well as a warm and lovely person, best known for her kindness to everyone she worked with," said Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott. Meanwhile, others commended her role in highlighting South Asian representation on TV. "She was the only South Asian face on American national TV news, I remember fondly from the 90's," tweeted fellow anchor Reena Ninan. "What amazed me most was her kindness when I joined as a reporter. She was a friend to all."

Bobbie Battista

With a career spread across two decades, Bobbie Battista was a groundbreaking and formidable force within the CNN newsroom. Having joined the network in 1988, she was one of its first headline anchors and reported on seminal events such as the Challenger space shuttle disaster, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, and 9/11. Chatting to CNN in 2001, she revealed that she was at home when 9/11 unfolded, but immediately rushed to the newsroom to be with her colleagues, such was her dedication to her craft. 

Reflecting on her time at CNN, she said that she relished her work as a news anchor and offered some advice to those aspiring to emulate her illustrious career. "You'll have to be willing to go to a small town somewhere, and do your time in the trenches," she explained. "There's a lot of competition, and you have to work your way up ... You have to love what you do. It's probably one of the most rewarding fields you could ever choose to work in." In addition to her news reportage, she was host of "Talkback Live" for three years.

After living with cervical cancer for four years, she died in 2020, aged 67. "Bobbie was the consummate trooper in her struggle with cancer," her husband, John Brimelow, told CNN (via Deadline). "She was courageous and fearless in her battle and thoughtful for all the others in her life even as she fought through the pain."