Writers, politicians, moguls and musicians. Actors, sports stars, journalists, even people who are famous only for being famous. Celebrities die every day. Few, if any, are personal losses. We note their passing, maybe mention it to a friend and move on. Not infrequently we’re surprised to find out they were still alive until their recent demise.
But there are some who, even though we knew them only at an impersonal distance, unknowingly touched us in some manner and we mourn them as though they were friends. The Kennedy brothers, John and Robert, were two of those for me. So was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And John Lennon.
Working on a blog post last Thursday while election follow-ups on CNN droned in the background, I was surprised to feel tears well up when the news anchor interrupted to announce the death, at age 65, of 60 Minutes correspondent, Ed Bradley.
Ten years ago or so, I was introduced to Mr. Bradley in the halls of the CBS Broadcast Center in New York where I then worked at cbsnews.com. We shook hands, exchanged brief pleasantries and went our separate ways. Mr. Bradley never saw me again, but I kept in touch with him, as I always had, via 60 Minutes on Sunday evenings.
Ed Bradley didn’t do “gotcha” journalism. He didn’t get in anyone’s face. He wasn’t a grandstander. He just insistently probed and prodded and reported in an understated manner that got closer to the heart of the matter than more prickly reporters. He was more intelligent than your average journalist too. And he had style.
Walter Cronkite was dubbed “the most trusted man in America,” but it has been decades since he held the news anchor chair. The man I have trusted most of all to tell me stories straight and true was Ed Bradley, but he was a not a personal friend and I didn’t know I would miss him until he died.
It is said that old friends are the best friends which can be so because there is a comfortableness in having known someone a long time. There is another kind of comfort in having known over many years, even at a distance, people we have come to appreciate, to look forward to seeing or reading for their talent, integrity, achievements and, in Mr. Bradley’s case for me, how well they instructed us.
A sad fact of getting older is that as these contemporaries die, the field of “friends-at-a-distance” who have defined our era and enriched our lives grows smaller. Often, having been there from our youth, they are replaced by younger people with whom we have little personal history. And so with each passing, our worlds become less and less familiar.
Ed Bradley’s death is one of those moments - a small, but important corner of my world is gone.