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Former CBS News Correspondent Richard Threlkeld Dead At 74

Richard Threlkeld

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EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. (CBS) – Former CBS News Correspondent Richard Threlkeld has died at the age of 74.

According to police in East Hampton Town Police, Threlkeld was traveling northbound on Cross Highway at the intersection of Rt. 27 in Amagansett just after 8 a.m. when he collided with a propane tanker.

The driver of the tanker, Earl Fryberger Jr., 57, of Coatesville, was not injured.

Threlkeld was transported to Southampton Hospital where he was pronounced dead by emergency personnel.

The retired, award-winning newsman had worked at CBS News for 25 years, where he anchored a national morning news program, reported extensively from overseas and helped launch the iconic news program, CBS SUNDAY MORNING.

Threlkeld’s last appearance on CBS was in 2004 on SUNDAY MORNING. He came out of retirement to help celebrate the broadcast’s 25th anniversary by doing a feature on the program’s weekly centerpiece, “Cover Story,” of which he had reported dozens in the broadcast’s very first years as its key correspondent.

He worked alongside Lesley Stahl as the co-anchor of “CBS Morning News” from 1977 to 1979. “Richard Threlkeld had the kind of name and kind of looks that could’ve made him a reporter in the movies, but unlike a reporter in the movies, he could write his owns scripts,” said Stahl. “In fact, he was one of our best writers and reporters, someone CBS sent to troubled spots to cover the big stories of the day. Richard was known for his integrity and his decency,” Stahl added.

Threlkeld’s work, especially on SUNDAY MORNING, got him noticed by ABC’s Roone Arledge, who hired him as a national correspondent for “ABC World News Tonight” in 1982. There, he began doing a regular feature called “Status Reports.” He was honored for seven of those features reported from 1982 to 1983 with one of broadcast journalism’s most prestigious awards, the Alfred I. Du Pont-Columbia University Silver Baton. He returned to CBS News in 1989.

Before leaving for ABC, Threlkeld served as a CBS News correspondent, anchor and bureau chief for 15 years, reporting on the CBS EVENING NEWS in addition to SUNDAY MORNING. He also appeared in the “CBS Reports” documentary series, “The Defense of the United States.”

Threlkeld was one of the most experienced combat correspondents in broadcast journalism. He covered the Persian Gulf War for CBS News and was one of the first journalists to report live from the front during the ground war along the Kuwait-Iraq border and from Kuwait City immediately after it was liberated. Threlkeld reported extensively from the Vietnam War and, in 1975, was among the last journalists evacuated from Phnom Penh and Saigon, when those cities fell to the Communists.

He was with CBS News and 60 MINUTES Correspondent Bob Simon in the last days of the war. “We were together when we covered the biggest story of our lives: the fall of Saigon, April 29, 1975. We were both in one of the last helicopters to leave the American embassy. We were on the same aircraft carrier on that sad trip to the Philippines,” said Simon. “Richard was old school in the best sense. He really didn’t give a damn about being on camera. He didn’t do many stand ups. He always figured there was more interesting footage than himself.”

Back home, he covered such major domestic stories as the Patty Hearst kidnapping and trial, the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy and the execution of Gary Gilmore. On the political scene, Threlkeld reported on the campaigns of Bill Clinton, George Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon B. Johnson Walter Mondale, John Anderson, Robert Kennedy, George McGovern, Barry Goldwater, Nelson Rockefeller and Edmund Muskie.

Overseas, Threlkeld covered the U.S. invasions of Panama and Grenada. He reported on the Middle East peace process and Rhodesia’s transformation to Zimbabwe in 1980. While based in Rome in 1977, Threlkeld reported from Italy, West Germany, Great Britain, Northern Ireland, Spain, France, Switzerland, Denmark and Greece. In 1976, he covered the war in Lebanon — the battle for Beirut and the Syrian invasion.

As the fall of Communism swept through Eastern Europe in 1989, Threlkeld had just returned from ABC and was sent to Prague to provide reports on the landmark events there. In 1990, he was in Moscow to report on the Soviet revolution. He also traveled to Beijing to provide analysis of the summit between Mikhail Gorbachev and Deng Xiaoping and to cover the historic student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.

Threlkeld was posted to Moscow in 1996, where remained until he retired from CBS News in 1998. From that experience, he wrote a book, “Dispatches from the Former Evil Empire” (Prometheus 2001).

Threlkeld originally joined CBS News in 1966 as a producer-editor based in New York. Shortly afterwards, he moved to the CBS News bureau in Los Angeles as a producer-correspondent and then to San Francisco as a correspondent and bureau chief (1970-77). Prior to joining CBS News, Threlkeld was a reporter for WMT-TV Cedar Rapids, Iowa (1961-65). He began his career in broadcast journalism in 1961 at WHAS-TV Louisville, Ky.

In addition to the Du Pont, Threlkeld has been honored with many other awards, including several Emmy and Overseas Press Club Awards, and a New York State Bar Association Award.

Threlkeld was born on Nov. 30, 1937 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and was raised in Barrington, Ill. He was graduated from Ripon (Wisc.) College in 1960 with a bachelor of arts degree in political science and history. He received his M.S. from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in 1961. He also attended the Columbia University School of International Affairs in 1965 and received a Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Ripon College in 1989.

He is survived by his wife of 28 years, Betsy Aaron, a former CBS, ABC, NBC and CNN correspondent; a brother, Robert, of Port Townsend, Wash.; two children, Susan Paulukonis of Alameda, Calif. and Julia Threlkeld of Yonkers, N.Y.; and two grandchildren, Joseph and Anne Paulukonis.

Funeral arrangements are private.

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