NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Morley Safer was honored for his long and distinguished career in a “60 Minutes” special Sunday night, as he formally retires after 46 seasons with the program.
Safer is among the household names – along with the late Mike Wallace, Harry Reasoner, Ed Bradley, Bob Simon, and Andy Rooney, as well as Steve Kroft, Lesley Stahl and several others – who made “60 Minutes” a nationally celebrated treasure.
“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 in a statement released last week. “But most of all I thank the millions of people who have been loyal to our broadcast.”
“Morley Safer: A Reporter’s Life”, which aired Sunday night, looked back on Safer’s storied career. He has worked in television news for 61 years, and has been around the world on every mode of transportation.
“It’s fair to say that nobody alive today has seen as much and reported on it as brilliantly as Morley,” longtime colleague Kroft said in the special.
Safer, 84, was born in Toronto, Canada, and covered major stories around the world for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation before he joined CBS News in April 1964. He began his CBS News career as a correspondent in the London bureau, and opened the CBS News Saigon Bureau in 1965.
Safer became CBS News’ London bureau chief in 1967, covering Europe, Africa and the Middle East and returning to Vietnam to cover the war.
Safer joined as a regular correspondent for “60 Minutes” in 1970, with a story about the training of U.S. Sky Marshals. His last 919th and last “60 Minutes” report – a profile of Danish architect Bjarke Ingels – aired in March.
The special looked back Safer’s career that involved visits to nearly every corner of the earth, from the remote island of Furudu to the tiny town of Marfa, Texas where cowboys are found alongside artists and hipsters.
Longtime friend Tom Brokaw of NBC said on the special that Safer is a natural who draws people into his narratives.
“You have to be who you are. He did not take himself so seriously that he seemed like some kind of a phony,” Brokaw said in the special. “When he was on television, he was Morley Safer. And his interests and his intellect and his humor all came through. And people saw that.”
Among the highlights of Safer’s “60 Minutes” career are classics such as “The French Paradox,” (1991) which explored the health benefits of red wine; “Yes, But Is It Art?” (1993), which enraged the contemporary art world in questioning why vacuum cleaners, urinals and other household items were being sold as high-priced art; and a hard-hitting 2011 interview where he asked Ruth Madoff what she knew about her husband Bernard’s Ponzi scheme.
And when citing the finest hour for “60 Minutes,” original executive producer Don Hewitt often pointed to Safer’s 1983 investigative report on Texas prisoner Lenell Geter, who had been wrongly convicted of armed robbery and was serving a life term. In the report, Safer presented new evidence that resulted in Geter’s release.
And when he wasn’t at work, Safer was a fan of fast cars – particularly his Ferrari. He nearly ran the table – but not quite – when he took on Jackie Gleason at billiards during an interview. And he’s especially talented at cards – when he worked for CBS in London, he bought a Bentley with his poker winnings, the special noted.
But of course, the public knew Safer best for his storytelling that sometimes evoked Ernest Hemingway, and his interviews – both amicable and tough.
“It’s the range, I think, that is most impressive about Morley,” Jeff Fager, executive producer of “60 Minutes,” said in the special. “I mean, I don’t think anybody in the history of broadcast journalism has a body of work as significant, as varied, as large and as impressive as Morley Safer.”