Morley Safer, stalwart of '60 Minutes,' dies at 84

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Morley Safer, a pillar of broadcast journalism as a member of CBS' 60 Minutes team for almost five decades, has died, the network said Thursday. He was 84.

Safer, who helped change Americans' perception of the Vietnam War in 1965 with an eye-opening report about the torching of the village of Cam Ne.

A native of Toronto, Safer earned a Lifetime Achievement Emmy from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 2009. He also collected 12 Emmy Awards, three Peabody Awards, two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, two George Polk Memorial Awards and the Paul White Award from the the Radio/Television News Directors Association.

Photos from Safer's storied career:

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Morley Safer, stalwart of '60 Minutes,' dies at 84
NEW YORK - JANUARY 1: CBS News correspondent Morley Safer crouches to avoid hostile fire as he reports from Vietnam in 1965. Image is a screen grab. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
SAIGON - JANUARY 1: CBS reporter, Morley Safer reporting from Vietnam in 1965 for CBS News. Image is a screen grab. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
MEKONG DELTA - JANUARY 1: American news broadcaster Morley Safer, correspondent for CBS News, as he reports from the Mekong Delta, Vietnam during the Vietnam War 1965. Photo is a screen grab. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 19: Morley Safer, CBS News reporter and correspondent. Image dated February 19, 1965. New York, NY. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
CAM NE - JANUARY 1: American news broadcaster Morley Safer, correspondent for CBS News, as Safer reports on the systematic burning of South Vietnamese villages by US Marines during the Vietnam War, Cam Ne, Vietnam, 1965. The broadcast showed US Marines igniting huts with Zippo lighters. Photo is a screen grab. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 17: CBS News reporter Morley Safer for 60 Minutes. Image dated November 17, 1970. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, D.C. - DECEMBER 2: Journalist Morley Safer and wife Jane Safer attend Kennedy Center Honors Gala on December 2, 1984 at the State Department in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
NEW YORK - APRIL 21: 60 MINUTES Morley Safer in his office, April 21, 1980. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 6: Portrait of Morley Safer, CBS News correspondent and reporter. Image dated September 6, 1985. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
Mike Wallace, Walter Cronkite, and Morley Safer during Anthology Film Awards at La Belle Epoque in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 10: Members of television's '60 Minutes' news program gather at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, NY, 10 November 1993 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the popular show. From left are: Mike Wallace, Andy Rooney, Morley Safer, Steve Kroft, Ed Bradley, Leslie Stahl, and Executive Producer Don Hewitt. (Photo credit should read BOB STRONG/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 04: Morley Safer is on hand for the Museum of Television and Radio Gala at the Waldorf-Astoria. (Photo by Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON -- Pictured: (l-r) News reporter Morley Safer during an interview with guest host Jay Lenoon May 15, 1990 -- (Photo by: Alice S. Hall/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
CNN's Larry King interviews Don Hewitt, Mike Wallace, Ed Bradley, Morley Safer, Lesley Stahl, Steve Kroft and Bob Simon of the '60 Minutes' anchor team during a taping of 'Larry King Live' on Tuesday, June 8, 2004. The show will air on Monday, June 14, 2004 at 9:00pm ET. (Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/WireImage)
NEW YORK - MAY 16: 60 Minutes correspondent/co-host Morley Safer shows off his 5 Peabody Awards during the 64th Annual Peabody Awards Luncheon held at the Waldorf-Astoria May 16, 2005 in New York City. (Photo by Fernando Leon/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - OCTOBER 21: CBS 60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer attends the 18th Annual Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame Awards at the Waldorf Astoria Basildon Room on October 21, 2008 in New York City. (Photo by Joe Corrigan/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 20: Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour (L) and CBS correspondent Morley Safer attends the Ralph Lauren Fall 2009 fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Skylight Studio on February 20, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORKÂÂSEPT. 17, 2009ÂÂ60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer has been with the show for 39 years. (Photo by Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Journalist Morley Safer and wife Jane Safer attend the premiere of 'Tin Men' on February 18, 1987 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 10: Morley Safer attends the 'Veep' screening at the Time Warner Screening Room on April 10, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/FilmMagic)
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Safer started with CBS News in 1964. He announced his retirement in May at the end of his 46th season with 60 Minutes; his last piece for the newsmagazine, a profile of Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, had aired two months earlier.

"After more than 50 years of broadcasting on CBS News and 60 Minutes, I have decided to retire. It's been a wonderful run, but the time has come to say goodbye to all of my friends at CBS and the dozens of people who kept me on the air," Safer said. "But most of all, I thank the millions of people who have been loyal to our broadcast."

Said 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager: "Morley has had a brilliant career as a reporter and as one of the most significant figures in CBS News history, on our broadcast and in many of our lives. Morley's curiosity, his sense of adventure and his superb writing all made for exceptional work done by a remarkable man."

Safer's August 1965 piece from Vietnam, in which he witnessed and reported on a U.S. Marines mission that destroyed the village of Cam Ne with flame throwers, matches and cigarette lighters, aired on the CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite.

The segment prompted the U.S. military to issue new rules of engagement and earned the wrath of members of the Lyndon Johnson administration, who called CBS News executives "unpatriotic" and accused Safer of being a communist.

Said Safer in the 2003 book Reporting America at War: An Oral History: "Cam Ne was a shock, I think. It's hard for me to know exactly, because I was 13,000 miles away, with really lousy communication, so I only got the reverberation of the shock. I think [viewers] saw American troops acting in a way people had never seen American troops act before, and couldn't imagine."

In a memorable 1983 segment for 60 Minutes, Safer reported on new evidence that freed Lenell Geter, an engineer who had been wrongly convicted of armed robbery and was serving a life sentence in Texas. (Dorian Harewood played Geter in a 1987 telefilm.)

In 2011, he interviewed Ruth Madoff on 60 Minutes about what she knew about the $65 billion Ponzi scheme orchestrated by her husband, Bernard. "Why would I ever think that there was something sinister going on?" she said.

Safer was among several media types who played themselves on the second season of House of Cards. In the Netflix series, he grilled Francis Underwood, the scandal-plagued politician played by Kevin Spacey.

"Morley Safer asks the hard questions," series creator Beau Willimon told THR in February 2014. "He's seen administrations come and go."

Safer, along with such 60 Minutes cohorts as Don Hewitt, Mike Wallace, Ed Bradley, Andy Rooney, Dan Rather, Steve Kroft and Lesley Stahl, was one of the country's most widely recognized broadcast journalists.

He could be disarming and whimsical, and his ability to get people to open up led to entertaining interviews with such notables as Katharine Hepburn, Betty Ford, Dolly Parton and Jackie Gleason. Of his ease with Gleason in a 1984 report, Safer self-deprecatingly noted, "We both drink, we both smoke and both play pool. But we connected, and he really got into it."

"Yes ...; But Is It Art?" his sly piece for 60 Minutes in 1993, wondered why three basketballs floating in water was considered high-priced contemporary art. A year later, he hosted a CBS News special that marked the retirement of longtime colleague Charles Kuralt.

Safer was born Nov. 8, 1931, in Toronto. He began his career as a reporter for newspapers and wire services in Canada and England and served as a correspondent and producer with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

In 1961, Safer was the only Western correspondent in East Berlin the night communists began building the Berlin Wall. He joined CBS News in April 1964 as a correspondent based in London, opened the division's outpost in Saigon in 1965 and was named London bureau chief in 1967, inheriting an office once inhabited by Edward R. Murrow.

He replaced Harry Reasoner, who left to anchor ABC's nightly newscast, on 60 Minutes in 1970.

Safer authored Flashbacks: On Returning to Vietnam in 1990 and in 2009 donated his papers to the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.

In a 2000 interview with the Archive of American Television, Safer talked about his "pretty solid body of work."

"It's not literary, I wouldn't presume to suggest that," he said. "But I think you can elevate it a little bit sometimes with the most important part of the medium, which is what people are saying -; whether they're the people being interviewed or the guy who's telling the story. It's not literature, but it can be very classy journalism."


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