Peter Jennings was born on July 29, 1938. He dropped out of high school and eventually worked in radio and television news. In 1964, Jennings was hired by ABC News and became the youngest U.S. news anchor the following year. He then served as a foreign correspondent until joining World News Tonight in 1978. From 1983 until his death in 2005, Jennings served as the show's sole news anchor.
Born July 29, 1938, in Toronto, Canada, Peter Jennings was the eldest of two children born to Elizabeth Osborne and Charles Jennings, a broadcast journalist for the Canadian Broadcasting Company. Peter, following in his father's footsteps, made his broadcast debut at the age of 9, hosting his own show, Peter's People (also called Peter's Program) on Canadian radio.
Jennings dropped out of high school at the age of 17, and by his early 20s he was back on the air hosting a Canadian music program called Club Thirteen. In 1962, when he was just 24, Jennings was named a co-anchor of the national news broadcast on CTV, placing him in direct competition with his father's network. He held the job for two years before moving to the United States and joining ABC News in 1964. Jennings' classic good looks and reassuring presence made him a natural pick for the anchor's chair, even though he preferred reporting in the field. In 1965, ABC made him the anchor of the program Peter Jennings With the News, which ran opposite the shows of venerable newsmen like Walter Cronkite on CBS and David Brinkley on NBC. Jennings lasted for two years in the role before quitting to become a foreign correspondent for the network. In 1968, he set up the network's bureau in Beirut, the first American television news bureau in the Arab world.
After seven years as Beirut bureau chief, Jennings moved back to Washington to host the morning program A.M. America. But the allure of reporting from the field soon proved, yet again, too much for Jennings to stick in his studio hosting role. Jennings moved first to Rome and then to London as ABC's Chief Foreign Correspondent. In 1978, he was named the foreign desk anchor for World News Tonight. When his co-anchor Frank Reynolds died in 1983, Jennings was named the sole anchor and senior editor of World News Tonight. He held that position for the next 22 years, becoming one of the most familiar and trusted faces on American television.
Looking back on his career, it seems that there were few historic events in the latter half of the 20th century for which Jennings was not present. At one time or another, he reported from all 50 American states. He was in Berlin for both the building of the Berlin Wall in the 1960s and its fall in 1989. He reported on the signing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, was one of the first journalists to report from Vietnam in the 1960s, covered the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, and reported from South Africa as apartheid ended in 1994. He spent 25 consecutive hours live on the air for ABC's coverage of the millennium, and anchored more than 60 hours in the week following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. At the peak of his popularity in the early 1990s, nearly 14 million people watched Jennings every night.
Nightly News Anchor
Reporting from London, Jennings became one of the three anchors of ABC's World News Tonight in 1978. He shared his duties with Frank Reynolds and Max Robinson. He became the broadcast's sole anchor in 1983 after Reynolds's death.
During his tenure with World News Tonight, Jennings handled many critical news events, including the 1991 Gulf War and the War in Iraq in 2003. He even spent hours on the air informing the nation about 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger and the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. For many, Jennings proved to be a calming influence during such difficult times. It was his professional demeanor and worldly presence that helped him sometimes beat out his competitors, such as Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw, in the news ratings race.
Outside of his nightly news responsibilities, Jennings also created several award-winning news specials. He tackled such important issues as gun violence and AIDS. He also re-examined such famous historical events as the bombing of Hiroshima and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Death and Legacy
Jennings' death marked the end of an era in broadcast news. The other members of the longtime "Big Three" trio of network anchors, NBC's Tom Brokaw and CBS's Dan Rather, had retired earlier the same year. Network news audiences had declined steadily over the years, and no later anchor enjoyed the kind of audiences that Jennings once commanded. "Peter Jennings had a long and distinguished career as a news journalist," President George W. Bush said upon news of his death. "He covered many important events, events that helped define the world as we know it today. A lot of Americans relied upon Peter Jennings for their news. He became a part of the lives of a lot of our fellow citizens, and he will be missed."
Married four times during his life, Jennings was wed to Kayce Freed at the time of his death. He had two children, Elizabeth and Christopher, with his third wife, journalist Kati Marton.
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