The Most Influential African-Americans on TV

Ed Bradley's hour had come. On Sunday night, 60 Minutes returned it to him in full with a tribute to his public and personal life.

"I don't have enough years left myself to ever get over missing Ed Bradley. Not ever," said Andy Rooney, 87. Bradley was 65 when he died of leukemia Thursday.

His quarter-century at 60 Minutes, for which he did 500 stories, made Bradley one of television's most enduring and important newsmen. He also ranks among the medium's all-time most influential African-Americans. As 60 Minutes showed, Bradley ranged far and wide. He covered wars, exposed corruption and sat down with some very big names in the world of crime, entertainment and athletics. They included Timothy McVeigh, Michael Jordan, Bob Dylan, George Burns, Laurence Olivier, Muhammad Ali and his favorite subject of all, Lena Horne.

Off camera he was a music buff and an onstage ham. Two of his very best friends were Jimmy Buffet and Wynton Marsalis.

"I got so much joy out of watching him attempt to be a shameless performer," said Buffet, who rushed to Bradley's bedside from Hawaii to be with him near the end.

Trumpeter Marsalis played Bradley off at the end of Sunday's 60 Minutes. "How could you not love him?" he asked rhetorically. "You couldn't help it."

Bradley wasn't much of a self-promoter. He didn't do many interviews with reporters. Nor did he let his colleagues at 60 Minutes know that he had been diagnosed with leukemia years ago.

I'll never forget my one up-close experience with Bradley. It was in 1976, and I was a political reporter for The Capital Times in Madison, Wis. For a half-day I got to travel with the national press corps covering Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign. By early evening we were flying from a stop in Illinois to Milwaukee, where Carter would be making a nighttime address.

Just before touchdown at Billy Mitchell Field, Bradley donned a gas mask and led a small V-formation of reporters onto the airport tarmac. He did so in support of a colleague who'd had his arm broken when a Milwaukee cop slammed a door on it during an earlier campaign visit. Bradley now approached a very unamused officer to inform him that this time the reporters were ready for action. Point made and lasting impression imparted.

Bradley always stayed his own man, wearing an earring on the air in later years just because he damn well wanted to do it. His sudden and very unexpected death also made me think about where he belongs on a list of television's 10 most influential African-Americans. As you might deduce, Bradley ranks pretty high.

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