Tim Russert, the unflappable moderator of TV’s “Meet the Press” whose exhaustively researched queries made many a politician sweat and kept Washington’s elite tuned in Sunday mornings, died Friday of a heart attack.
Mr. Russert, 58, fell ill while preparing for Sunday’s show at NBC’s Washington offices in Northwest. Emergency workers attempted rescuscitation and rushed him to Sibley Hospital nearby, where he was pronounced dead.
The son of a World War II veteran is survived by his wife, Maureen Orth, a journalist for Vanity Fair magazine, and a son, Luke. Besides his political-interviewing skills, widely praised Friday as the best in the business, he was beloved for his zest for family, faith and sports.
On Thursday evening, Mr. Russert had returned home early from a vacation with his wife and son in Rome, where they had been celebrating Luke’s graduation from Boston College. Mr. Russert’s father, Tim, known as “Big Russ,” also survives him.
His death came just two days before Father’s Day, which colleagues said only made his death more tragic and poignant, because he was as well-known for writing a best-selling book about his dad and fatherhood, “Big Russ and Me,” as he was for his political journalism. Some of the tens of thousands of letters people wrote to him about their own fathers in response became his second best-seller “Wisdom of Our Fathers.”
“I don’t know of anybody who has made people appreciate their fathers or their relationship with their sons more than Tim,” said Chuck Todd, NBC News’ political director.
Mr. Russert was also described as the “father figure” of NBC’s Washington bureau, where he played an executive role as bureau chief in addition to hosting “Meet the Press” and a weekly interview show on MSNBC.
“Our hearts are breaking,” said Andrea Mitchell, NBC’s chief foreign-affairs correspondent who often appeared emotional during the hours of coverage NBC devoted to the unexpected death.
MSNBC cited Mr. Russert’s doctor as saying that cholesterol plaque had ruptured in an artery, causing the sudden heart attack. According to Dr. Michael Newman, Mr. Russert had been diagnosed with a heart-artery disease, but there were no symptoms and the disease was well-controlled with medication and exercise. An autopsy also revealed an enlarged heart, Dr. Newman said.