Charles Kuralt, the folksy CBS newsman who left behind the drama of covering far-off wars and national elections to chronicle small-town and offbeat America from a motor home for his “On the Road” television reports, died Friday, the Fourth of July. He was 62.
Kuralt died in New York City at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center.
Kim Akhtar, a CBS spokeswoman, said Kuralt succumbed to complications arising from lupus, an inflammatory illness that can affect the kidneys, nervous system, skin and joints.
Associates said Kuralt’s death was unexpected, although he had been ill for months.
“I’m terribly shocked,” retired CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite, a longtime colleague, told WBZ radio of Boston, who offered one of the many accolades that began pouring in after news of his death hit.
“America lost one of its finest gentlemen and broadcasters today,” said Cronkite, who added that he found it “ironic” that Kuralt died on Independence Day. “While Charles never showed his patriotism on his sleeve, he truly loved America, the country and the people who populated it.”
In a further irony, Kuralt died on the very day that many National Public Radio stations aired what may have been his final work the narration of an hour-long program concerning the history of the Statue of Liberty.
Kuralt, said Howard Stringer, former president of CBS News, “was the consummate broadcaster, a triple-threat who could anchor, report and write with all-American brilliance.”
With his trademark soothing voice and reassuring manner, Kuralt became a journalistic institution after he and a three-person crew first hit the nation’s roads in October 1967 for a trial run of what would become “On the Road,” a series of homespun vignettes that ran on the “CBS Evening News” for more than 20 years. His sometimes bemused but never condescending essays hit a nerve at a time when incendiary events such as the war in Southeast Asia and civil rights strife at home dominated the headlines.
Kuralt’s back-roads reports included a school for unicyclists, a gas station that doubled as a poetry workshop and a horse trading post.
His “On The Road” odyssey, Kuralt once explained, was a search for the “unimportant,” “irrelevant” and “resolutely insignificant” story.
The baldish, paunchy Kuralt became a voice for a simpler nation seldom represented in the national media.
Kuralt’s reports, colleagues said, underscored his own curiosity and appreciation for other people’s achievements, large and small, as well as his lack of pretense and pomposity and ability to get along with others.
The “On The Road” format appealed to his peripatetic spirit.
“Charles suffered from a restlessness that kept him from fully enjoying his success,” said Andy Rooney, a commentator for “60 Minutes,” the CBS news magazine. “He had to keep on moving.”
Surviving Kuralt are his wife, Petie Baird Kuralt; two daughters, Susan Bowers and Lisa Bowers White, from a previous marriage; two grandsons; a brother, Wallace Kuralt of Chapel Hill, N.C.; and a sister, Catherine Harris, of Bainbridge Island, Washington.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.