Chet Huntley Cause of Death: How the Legendary News Anchor Lost His Battle with Lung Cancer

Chet Huntley was one of the most influential and respected news anchors in American history. He co-anchored NBC’s evening news program, The Huntley-Brinkley Report, for 14 years from 1956 to 1970, along with David Brinkley. He was also an author, a businessman, and a visionary who dreamed of creating a ski resort in Montana. But his life was cut short by a deadly disease that he could not overcome. How did Chet Huntley die? What was his cause of death? And what legacy did he leave behind? In this article, we will explore the life and death of Chet Huntley, and how he impacted the world of journalism and beyond.

Early Life and Career

Chet Huntley was born on December 10, 1911, in Cardwell, Montana, the only son and eldest of four children born to Percy Adams Huntley and Blanche Wadine Huntley. His father was a telegraph operator for the Northern Pacific Railway, and the family moved often due to the seniority system of the railroad. Huntley graduated from Whitehall High School in Whitehall, Montana, and attended Montana State College in Bozeman, where he was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. He also studied at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle and the University of Washington, where he earned a degree in speech and drama in 1934.

Huntley began his radio newscast career in 1934 at Seattle’s KIRO AM, later working on radio stations in Spokane and Portland. He moved to Los Angeles in 1937 and worked for KFI, then joined CBS Radio in 1939, where he covered World War II and the Korean War. He switched to ABC Radio in 1951, and then to NBC Radio in 1955, where he was viewed by network executives as “another Ed Murrow”.

The Huntley-Brinkley Report

In 1956, NBC News was looking for a way to counter the growing popularity of CBS’s Walter Cronkite, who had been a ratings success at the 1952 conventions. They decided to replace their current news anchor, John Cameron Swayze, but there was a disagreement on who the new anchorman should be. The two leading contenders were Huntley and David Brinkley. The eventual decision was to have both men share the assignment, with Huntley reporting from New York City and Brinkley from Washington, D.C. The Huntley-Brinkley Report was born, and it soon became a ratings hit and a cultural phenomenon.

The show was known for its balanced and objective reporting, its distinctive musical theme, and its catchphrase closing of “Good night, Chet”—“Good night, David… and good night for NBC News”, which was developed by the show’s producer, Reuven Frank. Huntley and Brinkley had a great on-air chemistry, with Huntley’s straightforward presentation countered by Brinkley’s acerbic wit. The show covered major events of the era, such as the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, the Space Race, and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. The show also featured special reports, documentaries, and interviews with prominent figures, such as Dwight D. Eisenhower, Nikita Khrushchev, Fidel Castro, and Richard Nixon.

The Huntley-Brinkley Report was widely acclaimed and honored, winning 14 Emmy Awards, three Peabody Awards, and the admiration of millions of viewers. It was also parodied and spoofed by comedians, such as Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, and Woody Allen. The show was so popular that it influenced the naming of other news programs, such as The MacNeil-Lehrer Report and The Lehrer News Hour.

Retirement and Big Sky Resort

In 1970, Huntley announced his retirement from NBC News, citing his desire to return to his home state of Montana and pursue other interests. He said, “I want to quit while I still have some curiosity, some interest, some enthusiasm, some zest for living.” He also said, “I want to go home. I want to go back to Montana.” He signed off his final broadcast on July 31, 1970, with a tearful farewell to his viewers and his partner, Brinkley.

Huntley had a vision of creating a ski resort in Montana, near the Spanish Peaks and Lone Mountain. He partnered with the Chrysler Corporation and the Boyne USA ski corporation to develop the Big Sky Resort, which he hoped would become a world-class destination for skiers and tourists. He also planned to build a television production center and a school of journalism at the resort. He invested his own money and time into the project, and became the spokesperson and the public face of the resort.

Unfortunately, Huntley did not live to see his dream come true. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in late 1973, and underwent surgery and chemotherapy. He continued to work on the resort until his health deteriorated. He died on March 20, 1974, at his home in Big Sky, Montana, just three days before the official opening ceremony of the resort. He was 62 years old. He was survived by his second wife, Tippy Stringer, whom he married in 1959, and his two daughters from his first marriage to Ingrid Rolin, whom he divorced in 1959.

Legacy and Impact

Chet Huntley was one of the most influential and respected news anchors in American history. He helped shape the field of broadcast journalism and set the standards for excellence and integrity. He was admired by his colleagues, his competitors, and his viewers. He was also a pioneer and a visionary who had a passion for his home state of Montana and its natural beauty. He left behind a legacy of professionalism, honesty, and courage.

His co-anchor, David Brinkley, said of him, “He was a very good man, a very decent man, a very honest man. He was a very good friend, and I miss him very much.” His friend and rival, Walter Cronkite, said of him, “He was a great broadcaster and a great gentleman. He was one of the really great pioneers of television news.” His admirer and successor, Tom Brokaw, said of him, “He was a towering figure in the history of broadcast journalism, and a role model for all of us who followed him.”

His ski resort, Big Sky Resort, is still operating today, and is one of the largest and most popular ski resorts in the United States. It has expanded over the years, and now offers a variety of activities and amenities for visitors, such as golf, hiking, biking, fishing, zip-lining, and spa services. It also hosts events and festivals, such as the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and the Big Sky Classical Music Festival. It is a testament to Huntley’s vision and dedication, and a tribute to his love for Montana.

Chet Huntley was a remarkable man who made a lasting impact on the world of journalism and beyond. He was a news anchor, an author, a businessman, and a visionary. He was a legend, and he is still remembered and honored today. He was Chet Huntley, and this is his story.

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