MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Eleanor Mondale, the vivacious daughter of former Vice President Walter Mondale who carved out her own reputation as an entertainment reporter, radio show host and gossip magnet, has died at her home in Minnesota. She was 51.
Family spokeswoman Lynda Pedersen said Mondale died Saturday. She had been diagnosed with brain cancer years earlier.
“Joan and I must report that our wonderful daughter, Eleanor Mondale Poling, after her long and gutsy battle against cancer, went up to heaven last night to be with her angel,” the former vice president said in a statement emailed to friends. “Thank you for all your friendship, you will hear more about plans to celebrate her life soon.”
Mondale had been off the air at WCCO-AM in Minneapolis since March 19, 2009, when she announced that her brain cancer had returned a second time. She had surgery to remove the tumor Aug. 12, 2009, at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and a posting on her CaringBridge website declared the surgery a success.
Mondale, the middle of three children born to Walter and Joan Mondale, stumped for her father in his failed campaign to unseat President Ronald Reagan in 1984. She also made calls in 2002 in her father’s last campaign, when the former vice president took the ballot slot of Sen. Paul Wellstone, who died in a plane crash just days before the election.
A striking blonde known on the party circuit when she was younger, Eleanor Mondale also attracted gossip. Her dalliance with the late rock musician Warren Zevon was detailed in “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon,” a posthumous biography published by Zevon’s ex-wife in 2007.
In 1998, CBS News reported that Mondale was one of four women Monica Lewinsky expressed resentment toward in taped conversations because of attention President Bill Clinton paid to them. (Mondale issued a statement saying her relationship with the president and his wife, Hillary, was “purely a friendship.”)
Mondale started as an aspiring actress, with bit parts in TV’s “Three’s Company” and “Dynasty.” She got her start in broadcasting as an entertainment reporter at WCCO-TV in Minneapolis in 1989, but left after only eight months when a Twin Cities magazine was about to publish an article called, “Walter and Joan’s Wild Child.” The Star Tribune reported that Mondale denied she was forced out.
In the article in Mpls.St. Paul magazine, Mondale was quoted as saying “I like to get wild. But it’s not murder, and I don’t do drugs.”
After stints at Minneapolis radio station WLOL-FM, on cable television at E! Entertainment and ESPN and network TV on CBS’ “This Morning,” she returned to Minnesota in 2006 to co-host a weekday morning show on WCCO-AM with Susie Jones.
“I was terrified of her at first, she was so big, but you talked to her for a minute and you realized she was just as regular as you could expect,” Jones said. “She was uncanny, she was unpredictable. She sparkled. She was gorgeous inside and out. And I’m going to miss her; I’m going to miss her so much.”
In 2005, Mondale was diagnosed with brain cancer after she suffered two seizures during a camping trip. The tumor nearly disappeared after Mondale had chemotherapy and radiation, but her cancer returned in 2008. She underwent surgery and was able to return to WCCO but eventually had to take disability leave to treat the recurrence.
“She would send me texts about how her (cancer) scan was. She had it every six weeks, and she would report how it was and how big it was. She hated that part,” said Jones, who visited Mondale on Thursday to say goodbye. “She fought very hard. She did not want to die. She had a lot of dignity in the end, and died quietly and beautifully.”
Mondale was married three times: to Chicago Bears offensive lineman Keith Van Horne, to fellow DJ Greg Thunder and to Twin Cities rock musician Chan Poling of The Suburbs. Mondale and Poling married in 2005, shortly after her cancer was diagnosed, and lived on a farm near Prior Lake in the southern Twin Cities.