Mr. Russert apparently collapsed while at work at NBC News' Washington, D.C., facility, according to former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, who announced the news on air Friday afternoon. MSNBC.com reported that he was recording voiceovers for Sunday's "Meet the Press" program when he collapsed, the network said. He had also recently finished a Q&A, Russert on Politics, posted to MSNBC.com this afternoon.
He and his family had recently returned from Italy, where they celebrated the graduation of Mr. Russert's son, Luke, from Boston College, MSNBC.com reported.
NBC Universal reaction
"We have lost a beloved member of our NBC Universal family and the news world has lost one of its finest," said Jeff Zucker, CEO, NBC Universal in a statement. "The enormity of this loss cannot be overstated."
"This is a loss for the entire nation. Everyone at NBC News is in shock and absolutely devastated. He was our respected colleague, mentor, and dear friend. Words can not express our heartbreak," said Steve Capus, president, NBC News in that same statement.
Jeff Immelt, Chairman-CEO, General Electric, said in a statement, "Everyone at GE and at NBC Universal is devastated by the loss of our colleague and friend Tim Russert. Tim was a giant in journalism and a face and a voice that America trusted. He earned that trust through hard work, love of his profession and, above all, through his enduring honesty and integrity. And most importantly, Tim was a wonderful human being who valued family and friends over all. We will miss him greatly. My sincerest sympathies go out to Tim's family and to the many people whose lives he touched."
Official Washington reacted with shock and disbelief at the his death. As Washington bureau chief of NBC News and host of the premier Sunday-morning network talk show, Mr. Russert was closely watched in the Capitol. Despite always-tough questioning, a guest spot on the program was about the highest honor politicians could hope for in network TV, and they fought for a spot.
"Laura and I are deeply saddened," said President George W. Bush in a statement. "Those of us who knew and worked with Tim, his many friends and the millions of Americans who loyally followed his career on air will all miss him. As the longest-serving host of the longest-running program in the history of TV, he was an institution in both news and politics for more than two decades. He was always well-informed and thorough in his interviews and he was as gregarious off the set as he was prepared on it."
"I am very saddened by Tim Russert's sudden death," said GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain. "Cindy and I extend our thoughts and prayers to the Russert family as they cope with this shocking loss and remember the life and legacy of a loving father, husband and the pre-eminent political journalist of his generation. He was truly a great American who loved his family, his friends, his Buffalo Bills, and everything about politics and America. He was just a terrific guy. I was proud to call him a friend, and in the coming days, we will pay tribute to a life whose contributions to us all will long endure."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) recalled Mr. Russert as "a warm and gracious family man with a great zest for life and an unsurpassed passion for his work. His rise from working-class roots to become a well-respected leader in political journalism is an inspiration to many. Tim asked the tough questions the right way and was the best in the business at keeping his interview subjects honest," he said.
Earned peers' respect
National Association of Broadcasters president-CEO David K. Rehr called Mr. Russert "one of the most trusted and credible journalists in the history of broadcast news, delivering balanced and authoritative political reporting to millions of viewers. The broadcast community has lost a reporter who epitomized excellence, and we mourn NBC and the Russert family's loss. Our Sunday mornings will never be the same."
Soon after joining NBC News, Mr. Russert supervised live broadcasts of the "Today" show from Rome, negotiating and arranging an appearance by Pope John Paul II. He took the helm of "Meet the Press," NBC's Sunday-morning news program, in 1991. He also served as senior VP and Washington bureau chief of NBC News.
But it is his role as the face of "Meet the Press" for which he was best known. The Sunday-morning program, currently in its 60th year, is the longest-running program on TV, according to NBC. In addition to "Meet the Press," he had his own weekly MSNBC interview show, "The Tim Russert Show."
"Meet the Press" brought in around $70.7 million in advertising in 2007, up from about $69.7 million in 2006 and $65.8 million in advertising in 2005. The program's top sponsors last year included Boeing, NBC parent General Electric, Xerox, UBS, AT&T and Toyota Motor, according to TNS Media Intelligence data.
Roots in New York state
Mr. Russert was born in Buffalo, N.Y., on May 7, 1950. He was a graduate of Canisius High School, John Carroll University and the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. He was admitted to the bar in both New York and the District of Columbia. In addition to his son, Luke, he is survived by his wife, Vanity Fair writer Maureen Orth, and his father, Tim Russert, known as "Big Russ" and the subject of his autobiography, "Big Russ and Me, Father and Son: Lessons of Life."