Updated: Walter Cronkite Gravely Ill, Says Report; Asst. Claims It’s Exaggerated

by | June 19, 2009 at 10:22 AM | TV News

A story on Mediabistro’s website TV Newser reporting that legendary newsman Walter Cronkite is gravely ill has been called into question.

Although TV Newser’s facts were apparently confirmed by multiple CBS News sources, Cronkite’s executive assistant Cynthia Dicrocco spoke to Boston.com and said that the 92-year-old former nightly news anchor has recently been battling an illness, but he’s not at the end.

β€œHis condition is being grossly exaggerated,” she said.

She added that he is recuperating in New York.

Cronkite anchored the CBS Evening News for 19 years, signing off in 1981. He covered World War II for United Press, joined CBS in 1950 as a Washington correspondent, and became anchor in 1962 when the broadcast was just 15 minutes. His nightly “And that’s the way it is” became almost as well known as his gravely baritone.

In a 2006 interview, TV Newser reporter Gail Shister asked Cronkite if he thought much about death.

“When you get to be 89, you have to think about it a little bit. It doesn’t prey on me, and it doesn’t keep me awake nights. Occasionally, when I’m upset about something else, I think, ‘My gosh, I don’t know if I should do this or that because I’m not sure I’ll be here that long to enjoy it.’”

Cronkite’s interruption of the daytime soap ‘As the World Turns’ to report the assassination of President Kennedy made an indelible impression on generations of Americans.

Here is a bulletin from CBS News,” he said at 1:40 pm. “In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting.”

Before he finished reading his report, he was handed another update:

“More details just arrived. These details about the same as previously…President Kennedy shot today just as his motorcade left downtown Dallas. Mrs. Kennedy jumped up and grabbed Mr. Kennedy, she called “Oh no!,” the motorcade sped on. United Press [International] says that the wounds for President Kennedy perhaps could be fatal. Repeating, a bulletin from CBS News: President Kennedy has been shot by a would-be assassin in Dallas, Texas. Stay tuned to CBS News for further details.”

Another famous moment: After Cronkite editorialized against the Vietnam War during the Tet Offensive, President Lyndon Johnson said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”

Forced to retire at age 65, then the policy at CBS; Cronkite was not especially close to his replacement on the nightly news, Dan Rather. Nor was he happy with retirement in general. “I want to say that probably 24 hours after I told CBS that I was stepping down at my 65th birthday, I was already regretting it. And I regretted it every day since.”

Cronkite, who continued to work on various projects and blogged most recently for the Huffington Post, was married for nearly sixty-five years to Betsy Maxwell Cronkite, who died on March 16, 2005. They have three children: Nancy Cronkite, Kathy Cronkite, and Walter (Chip) Cronkite III and four grandchildren.

I can’t imagine a person becoming a success who doesn’t give this game of life everything he’s got,” he once said.