He was a consumate pro, who was one of the great New York TV street reporters. John Slattery passed away suddenly early Thursday. Tuned In has learned that the veteran WCBS-TV reporter died of an apparent heart attack in his sleep. A spokesperson could not confirm his cause of death. He was 63. His death comes just hours after filing a story for the station.
His death stunned colleagues and competitors alike.
“We are saddened by the unexpected passing of our friend and colleague John Slattery… He was great at reporting the news and was someone we counted on to cover big stories for us, both here in New York and around the world,” Peter Dunn, WCBS President and GM, said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with John’s wife, Suzie, and their children and grandchildren.”
During a legendary 35-year run in New York City, Slattery intersected with some of the most famous anchors the market ever saw. After a stint at Philly’s WCAU, Slattery reached the big time when Eyewitness News came calling in 1979. He spent five years with WABC, where Roger Grimsby and Bill Beutel still ruled the roost. The station also added Ernie Anastos and Tom Snyder while Slattery was pounding the pavement. While there, he was part of Channel 7’s John Lennon assassination coverage. In 1981, Slattery made history as the first reporter to conduct a post-Watergate interview with former president Richard Nixon.
Slattery joined WCBS-TV in October 1984. Channel 2’s Lou Young, who worked with Slattery at both New York shops, tweeted:
“A grey day. Our friend John Slattery has passed. We go on with warm memories and tears.”
While Slattery was getting started at WCBS, Jim Jensen and Rolland Smith were winding down their illustrious careers. Carol Martin is another former WCBS anchor who knew Slattery well.
“It is rare that on-air folk are as kind and generous as we’d hope they are, but John — we called him “Slatts” — really was that guy,” Martin tells Tuned In. “I have no memory of him ever losing his gentle manner– on or off air.”
The four-time Emmy Award winner was on the scene for some of the biggest and most tragic events in the last three decades, leaving a void in the WCBS newsroom.
“We are crushed right now. [We’re] absolutely heartbroken,” WCBS anchor Chris Wragge tells Tuned In. “John was the gold standard, a Hall of Fame man, husband, father, friend, reporter.”
Slattery was calm in the most complicated situations. He was at his best when the red light went on for a live report, especially on 9/11.
“From my post at the anchor desk, tossing over to John reporting at the scene, I knew we would get an accurate, unvarnished, straightforward update, no matter the gravity of the situation”, Martin recalls.
He covered everything from Superstorm Sandy and blizzards to plane crashes and ticker-tape parades.
The sadness of Slattery’s untimely death resonates beyond the Broadcast Center on West 57th. WABC’s N.J. Burkett, a rival of Slattery, had the utmost respect for him.
“He was an abidingly decent man who made New York street reporting his life’s work. Millions of New York television viewers will miss his distinctively reassuring voice,” Burkett tells Tuned In. “He never hesitated to hold public officials accountable, or to call out police officials who placed unreasonable restrictions on reporters at crime scenes.”
He had the general assignment beat, but viewers would see his presence at many high-profile court cases, including those of Robert Chambers, Mike Tyson and Jean Harris.
“He was the essence of a solid reporter,” remembers longtime co-worker Pablo Guzman. “Like [Derek] Jeter, he was consistent on the field. And behind that stoic facade [was] a sharp cutting wit. He cut thru the BS like no one else.”
On a personal note, I was fortunate to meet Slattery while covering the Staten Island march and rally for Eric Garner in August. In a brief encounter, I told him he must have covered a few marches over the years.