President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton were among those who paid tribute to Walter Cronkite today at the famed newsman’s Lincoln Center memorial service.
Avery Fisher Hall was jammed with media heavyweights and celebs who came to pay final respects and celebrate the life of Cronkite, who died last month at age 92.
Tom Brokaw, Andy Rooney, Steve Kroft, Morley Safer, Diane Sawyer, Barbara Walters, Bob Schieffer, Katie Couric, Charles Gibson, Brian Williams, Cynthia McFadden, Charlie Rose, Christiane Amanpour, Deborah Norville, Bernard Shaw, Bob Simon, Bryant Gumbel, Les Moones and Sir Howard Stringer were among the media types who either attended and/or spoke. Liz Smith was front-and-center, and I spotted 93-year-old Eli Wallach and wife Ann Jackson, as well as astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Tyne Daly, Nick Clooney (George’s dad and an old pal), Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas, Jerry Adler, Georgette Mosbacher, Robin McNeill, Ernie Anastos, Joe Armstrong, and Kerry Kennedy.
Of course, the entire Cronkite family was there, as well as Joanna Simon, Walter’s companion of the last few years, with sisters Carly and Lucy, brother Peter, and Lucy’s husband, Dr. David Levine.
There were musical performances by Mickey Hart, of the Grateful Dead, Jimmy Buffett, and Michael Feinstein. Cronkite got two special and very cool handmade awards from the folks at the U.S.S. Intrepid, accepted by his family.
Rooney, who was too overcome at Cronkite’s funeral last month to finish his speech, instead delivered a taped video tribute that was absolutely hilarious and poignant. Cronkite, who had a wicked sense of humor, would have appreciated his oldest friend’s salute.
There was also a New Orleans jazz send-off with Wynton Marsalis and a band of five marching up and down the aisles. They were in fine form, and lifted what could have been a somber mood into jubilant reverie.
Both Clinton and Obama stayed through the entire two-and-a-half-hour ceremony, each receiving thunderous standing ovations. Clinton told the audience that in 1998, when he and his family were on Martha’s Vineyard during the Monica Lewinsky mess, Cronkite offered to go sailing with him. Clinton recalled: “He said, ‘People might take pictures of us.’ ” Clinton paused, then added that that would not be a problem: “At the time, I could have done with a picture of me and Walter Cronkite.”
Schieffer — who called Cronkite “the most curious man I ever met” — told the best story, though: He and Cronkite managed to get an exclusive interview with President Gerald Ford, and in the process hoodwinked both Dick Cheney — then Ford’s chief of staff– and Barbara Walters. Walters was then on the “Today” show, and I was surprised that Schieffer said Cronkite considered her his biggest competition. Walters had already gotten a promised interview with Ford, but Schieffer and Cronkite went around her and fooled Cheney into a nine second on the spot interview that they used to lead off the news that night.
One thing I will say for CBS: They put their best foot forward with this memorial for Cronkite. It was letter perfect, classy and elegant, a fitting send off for their biggest news star ever.