Peter Jennings

Active - 1980 - 2008  |   Born - Jul 29, 1938 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada  |   Died - Aug 7, 2005   |   Genres - History, Culture & Society

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Biography by Nathan Southern

Over the course of four decades, broadcast journalist Peter Jennings achieved international fame and built an enduring reputation as chief anchor on the ABC Evening News (eventually retitled ABC World News Tonight). Born July 29, 1938, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Jennings had broadcasting in his blood: his father, Charles Jennings, served as the first radio announcer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation after its establishment in the mid-'30s, and Peter himself hosted a short-lived children's radio series called Peter's Program at nine years old. Jennings dropped out of high school as a teenager and held down a job as a bank teller for several years. Afterward, he picked up his father's reins and pursued a career as a radio broadcaster and then a television news correspondent.

A deeply impressed ABC News hired 25-year-old Jennings on August 3, 1964, and invited him to serve as their news anchor one year later. This lasted until January 1968, but at that point, Jennings decided that he needed more grassroots experience and stepped down to resume work as a regular "field correspondent." Bob Young inherited the position from him. From the field, Jennings covered such pivotal and earth-shattering stories as the ongoing American escalation in Vietnam, the 1972 terrorist kidnapping of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games, and the Cambodian genocide. After 16 years, Jennings finally reassumed the assignment of ABC News anchor in 1983 and retained the position for over 20 years. (TV historians Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh later observed that while he was "dismissed as a kid in the '60s, [Jennings rose] in stature to become America's leading anchorman in the 1990s.") In the process, Jennings collected 16 Emmys, a George Foster Peabody Award, a National Headliner Award, a handful of Overseas Press Club Awards, and dozens of additional honors.

Unlike a few of his newsroom contemporaries, Jennings never did feature film work or made humorous cameos as himself in series programs. His filmed work outside of the newsroom exclusively consists of dozens of ABC News and non-ABC-affiliated documentary videos on a seemingly limitless array of subjects, typically with Jennings hosting, dispassionately and objectively. Selected titles include ABC News: Peter Jennings from the Killing Fields (1986), JFK Remembered (1988), Nature's Fury: A Decade of Disasters (1989), The Japanese Way of Life (1990), and ABC News: Inauguration '93 (1993). Around the turn of the millennium, he also hosted the popular programs This Century: America's Time and Peter Jennings Reporting, and published the 1998 bestseller This Century, a 20th century retrospective that Jennings co-authored with Todd Brewster.

Tragically, Jennings died at a relatively young age. Only 67, he passed away in late summer 2005, of lung cancer, a condition he only became aware of four or five months prior. According to the ABC website, Jennings began "aggressive chemotherapy treatments," but they did little to stall the onslaught of the disease. Jennings was married four times: first to Valerie Godsoe, then to Lebanese photographer Annie Malouf, then to Kati Marton, and finally (in 1997 until his death) to Kayce Freed. He had two children with Marton: Elizabeth Jennings (born in 1980) and Christopher Jennings (born in 1982).

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  • Son of Canadian journalist Charles Jennings, got start in broadcasting at age 9 as the host of a Saturday-morning children's show on CBC Radio called Peter's People; his father disapproved because it smacked of nepotism.
  • Dropped out of high school at 16 and went to work as a bank teller for the Royal Bank of Canada.
  • Returned to Canadian broadcasting for good in the late 1950s, including a stint as the host of Club Thirteen, a dance show similar to American Bandstand, but also as a news anchor.
  • Hired by ABC in 1964, and in 1965 became the anchor of Peter Jennings With the News, a 15-minute newscast that competed against—and lost to—Walter Cronkite on CBS, and Chet Huntley and David Brinkley on NBC.
  • Left the anchor desk in 1967 to become a foreign correspondent, covering noteworthy events such as the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, and in 1978 became the London anchor for ABC's World News Tonight.
  • Succeeded the late Frank Reynolds as sole anchor (and senior editor) of World News Tonight, a position he would hold—and be known as one of the Big 3, with NBC's Tom Brokaw and CBS' Dan Rather—until his final broadcast on April 5, 2005, when he announced he had lung cancer.
  • Became a U.S. citizen on May 2003, but also retained his Canadian citizenship. 
  • With Todd Brewster, coauthor of several books, including The Century (1998) and In Search of America (2002).