WASHINGTON – Tim Russert was big wherever he went — in politics, in television, in writing — and even in a suit.
Russert, the hard-hitting moderator of NBC's "Meet the Press," died at work Friday at age 58 of a heart attack.
Russert, who also was in charge of NBC News' Washington bureau, is survived by his wife, Maureen Orth, and his son, Luke.
A noticeably shaken Tom Brokaw made the announcement live from New York on the NBC network, saying his colleague collapsed and died early Friday afternoon in the network's bureau in Washington.
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Brokaw said Russert had just returned from a trip to Italy with his wife and son to celebrate his son's graduation from Boston College. They reportedly were still in Italy at the time of his death.
"He has been a very familiar face on this network and throughout the world of political journalism as one of the premiere political analysts and journalists of his time," Brokaw said.
Russert was also known for his large stature, his love of his family and his affinity for his home town of Buffalo — and its NFL franchise, the Bills. Brokaw said Russert had just visited Buffalo last week to assist in moving his father to a new home. Russert's father, known as Big Russ, was the subject of one of Russert's best-selling books.
"I think I can invoke personal privilege to say that this news division will not be the same without his strong, clear voice. He'll be missed as he was loved — greatly," Brokaw said.
Russert was recording voice-overs for the upcoming Sunday show when he started having trouble breathing, NBC reported.
His internist, Michael A. Newman, said cholesterol plaque had ruptured in an artery, causing sudden coronary thrombosis. Resuscitation was begun immediately and continued at Sibley Memorial Hospital, to no avail.
Newman said an autopsy showed that Russert had an enlarged heart, NBC reported. Russert had been diagnosed with asymptomatic coronary artery disease, which he was controlling with medication and exercise, the doctor said.
He apparently collapsed. An ambulance was called, but Russert was unconscious when responders took him and he never revived.
Russert had hosted "Meet the Press" since 1991, taking the seat from Garrick Utley. Russert also authored two best-sellers, including "Big Russ and Me," which focused on the relationship with his father, and the "Wisdom of Our Fathers."
Russert honed his hard-hitting interviewing style over the years, and became a make-or-break appearance for any major American politician, as well as must-see television for political observers, in and outside government.
He regularly interviewed the biggest names in domestic and international politics. He also moderated presidential debates, including at least three during the 2008 presidential campaign cycle. He was scheduled to host Sens. Joe Biden, D-Del., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., for the upcoming Sunday show.
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• FAST FACTS: Tim Russert Biography
"Meet the Press" has been on network television since 1947, and is the longest running American public affairs show.
Russert — who also was an attorney and an aide to former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., and former Democratic New York Gov. Mario Cuomo — had a distinctive on-air style marked by tough questioning and extensive research that included posting well-documented quotes and charts on air.
During the 2000 election, Russert received light ribbing but made an indelible memory for making repeated references to a white dry-erase board he continued to write on while explaining the ongoing tallies. He eventually determined that night — before the recount and the hanging chads — by playing out numbers on his erase-board tally that Florida would be the center of the action.
Time Magazine named Russert one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2008.
His reputation — criticized both by conservatives for liberal bias and liberals for conservative bias — might have been the only one left untarnished by the scandal involving former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby and former CIA operative Valerie Plame in the CIA Leak case, which turned on Russert's testimony.
And his reputation survived, despite criticism — withering at times — over various controversies throughout his career.
In addition to nagging questions about his past life as a Democratic staffer, Russert suffered criticism for his part in the reporting of the run-up to the Iraq war. His show provided a pivotal appearance by Vice President Dick Cheney on the day a story appeared in The New York Times that pumped up the likelihood of Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction.
The administration has since been reported to have planted that story under the auspices of unnamed sources, and then used the story to catapult its case on national television. Critics have said Russert and other national journalists did not do enough to vet the reports.
Russert also took flak following an October 2007 Democratic presidential debate that he moderated with NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams. In the debate, Hillary Clinton struggled with a tough question about driver's licenses for illegal immigrants in New York. Her supporters thought the NBC moderators went easy on the other candidates during the debate.
In a statement from the White House, President Bush said: "Laura and I are deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Tim Russert. ... He was an institution in both news and politics for more than two decades. Tim was a tough and hardworking newsman. He was always well-informed and thorough in his interviews. And he was as gregarious off the set as he was prepared on it," Bush said, also noting he was "a proud son and father."
FOX News Chairman Roger Ailes also noted Russert's tough interview style, remembering private lunches: "I think before the last presidential election, I had lunch with him. He would always have lunch with people, and at lunch, you felt like you were on 'Meet the Press,' because he always had penetrating questions."
Ailes also remembered Russert's sense of humor, saying he "was one of the funniest guys that I knew," providing impressions of those from former employers like Moynihan on up to presidents. "It's hard to find a picture of Tim when he isn't smiling. He was just a guy who enjoyed life."
"He was an example for all journalists today and tomorrow," Ailes added.
"When Russert said something, it had an enormous impact," said "FOX News Sunday" host Chris Wallace, commenting on Russert's early call that the 2008 Democratic primaries were essentially over, favoring Obama. Obama eventually clinched the number of delegates needed to win and is now the presumptive nominee.
Bob Schieffer, Russert's competitor on CBS' "Face the Nation," said the two men delighted in scooping each other, according to The Associated Press.
"When you slipped one past 'ol Russert, you felt as though you had hit a home run off the best pitcher in the league," Schieffer said. "I just loved Tim and I will miss him more than I can say."
Biden, one of Russert's many repeating guests, issued this statement: "Tim Russert was a man of tremendous honor and integrity, with a great love of politics and a deep commitment to our country. Anyone who spent time around Tim could feel immediately the love he had for his family. Our nation lost a pillar of journalism today, but above all else, we lost a good and decent man."
And former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., told FOX, "All of us who have had any connection with Tim Russert are stunned and shocked. He was so vital, so intense, so totally committed to life. ... I think everybody who knew him must be both very sad and in a genuine state of shock."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.