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Originally published February 21, 2014 at 11:25 PM | Page modified February 22, 2014 at 12:02 AM

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Garrick Utley, 74, former NBC anchor, dies of prostate cancer

Fluent in Russian, German and French, Garrick Utley reported from some 75 countries in a multifaceted career that included 30 years at NBC.


The New York Times

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Garrick Utley, a former anchor for NBC News who for many years was one of a rare breed in television news reporting, a full-time foreign correspondent, died late Thursday at home in Manhattan. He was 74.

He died of prostate cancer, his wife, Gertje Utley, said.

From the battlefields of Vietnam and Iraq to the Soviet-led invasion of Prague, Mr. Utley was a forthright interviewer of troops and commanders in the field and of presidents and diplomats in the halls of power.

Fluent in Russian, German and French, he reported from some 75 countries in a multifaceted career that included 30 years at NBC. He was a bureau chief in London and Paris for the network, chief foreign correspondent, weekend news anchor and substitute for John Chancellor and Tom Brokaw on “NBC Nightly News.” He also hosted magazine programs and moderated the Sunday morning program “Meet the Press.” He later worked for ABC News and CNN.

He began his career auspiciously, rising from office clerk to Vietnam War correspondent in one year. In 1964 he became one of the first network reporters based in Saigon, joining newspaper and wire-service correspondents. Like some of his colleagues, he strove for meaningful reporting, offering longer perspectives on political issues and battlefield developments and bringing a little-known war home vividly to Americans.

In 1968, Mr. Utley covered the invasion of Czechoslovakia as Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces crushed the so-called Prague Spring political reforms. He covered the 1973 Yom Kippur war, interviewed the Nazi leader Albert Speer in 1976, reported on the Cold War from Berlin and Moscow and, in 1987, interviewed the dissident physicist Andrei Sakharov as he emerged from years of internal exile. He covered a summit of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Mikhail S. Gorbachev in 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall that same year and the Persian Gulf War in 1990.

Mr. Utley was no swashbuckler in a trench coat: He was a 6-foot-6 scarecrow with gentle eyes and a wry smile who slouched beside his short, German-born wife. He loved opera and for years was the host of the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts on PBS. He was also a workhorse on assignment, an aggressive voice in the studio and a critic of the networks when they cut back international news coverage and in-depth reporting.

Serious television reporting has largely been replaced by “interminable talking heads,” he told The New York Times in 2004, when he joined a State University of New York graduate program in international relations in Manhattan. “Since television can now report live from anywhere in the world, television reporters sometimes become color commentators who narrate news events rather than carrying out in-depth news reporting.”

Clifton Garrick Utley was born in Chicago on Nov. 19, 1939, to Clifton Utley, an NBC radio and television commentator, and Frayn Garrick Utley, a broadcast reporter for CBS and NBC and a Chicago civic leader. He graduated from Westtown School in West Chester, Pa., in 1957, and from Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., in 1961.

After Army service and graduate studies at the Free University in Berlin, Mr. Utley joined NBC in Brussels, Belgium, in 1963 on the recommendation of a family friend, the correspondent Chancellor, who became his mentor. Mr. Utley was soon covering the war in Indochina.

In 1973, he married Gertje Rommeswinkel, an art historian and author who sometimes accompanied him on assignments. Besides his wife, he is survived by two brothers, Jonathan and David.

In the early 1970s, he anchored Saturday evening news programs in New York before being succeeded in 1973 by Brokaw, then a rising NBC star. For the rest of the decade Mr. Utley was the network’s London bureau chief and senior European correspondent.

Returning to New York, he wrote and anchored “NBC White Paper: America — Black and White,” on the black experience since the civil-rights era, in 1981. He was NBC’s chief correspondent in the 1980s, covering foreign and domestic affairs, including presidential campaigns.

He moderated “Meet the Press” from 1989 to 1991 and anchored weekend news programs from 1988 to 1993. He left NBC in 1993 and until 1996 was ABC’s London-based chief foreign correspondent. From 1997 to 2002 he reported for CNN; he co-anchored the network’s coverage of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

His memoir, “You Should Have Been Here Yesterday: A Life in Television News,” was published in 2000, almost simultaneously with his wife’s book “Picasso: The Communist Years.”

Mr. Utley won a Peabody Award and the Overseas Press Club’s Edward R. Murrow Award. He was president of SUNY’s Neil D. Levin Graduate Institute of International Relations and Commerce in Manhattan from 2004 to 2011, studying New York’s role in the global economy. He later taught journalism and broadcasting at the State University of New York at Oswego.



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