Former 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace died last night at the age of 93. His health had been in decline since triple bypass heart surgery in 2008.
While Wallace is best known for his nearly forty year stint on 60 Minutes, he had been a fixture as a radio and television announcer, game show host and occasional actor going back to 1939. In the late 1950s, Wallace hosted a short lived TV series on ABC called The Mike Wallace Interview. One of his interviews was with MLB pitching legend Bob Feller which was broadcast after Feller’s retirement in 1957. Interestingly, his last 60 Minutes interview was with Roger Clemens more than half a century later.
Of course, Wallace would become a household name following the launch of 60 Minutes on CBS in September 1968. But his life nearly took a very different turn that year when Richard Nixon asked Wallace to become his press secretary. Wallace seriously considered Nixon’s offer but turned it down. Wallace would later become a thorn in the side to the Nixon Administration especially with his interview of Nixon aide John Ehrlichman when he listed a litany of crimes and misdemeanors allegedly committed “by the law and order administration of Richard Nixon.” To which Ehrlichman replied, “Is there a question in there somewhere?”
Perhaps Wallace’s most famous interview was with the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 during the hostage crisis. Wallace, quoting Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, referred to Khomeini as “a disgrace to Islam” and “a lunatic.” Wallace is probably the only person to have told the Ayatollah he was a lunatic and lived to tell the tale.
A tribute to Wallace will air tonight on 60 Minutes from Morley Safer.