Saturday, July 21, 2007

KGO's Pete Wilson dies at 62

Veteran KGO-TV news anchor and KGO radio host Pete Wilson died Friday night at Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto from a massive heart attack suffered during hip replacement surgery, the station announced today. The heart attack occurred during surgery on Thursday and doctors battled to save him for more than a day, but he was removed from life support and succumbed at 9:20 p.m. Friday.

Wilson, 62, is survived by his wife, Sandra, and son Brendan, who is in college.

On his last radio show Wednesday, Wilson said he was nervous about having surgery. [Link to mp3 of his monologue.] He said:
    "... I'm having hip replacement surgery tomorrow. I did this once before, 13 years ago. I was 49. And I barely thought about it then. I just did it. After all, it's not like it's open heart surgery. I'm just getting a wheel changed.

    "But this time I am driving myself nearly nuts with anxiety about this, and I don't know why. What's different? Maybe it's that I'm older and a lot closer to the tail end than the front. Mortality is now an actual thought on occasion, nevermind that they do 200,000 replacement surgeries a year in this country alone and there are very few disasters. But adrenaline is now playing havoc with my system. I'm nervous. My stomach is rumbling like a John Williams movie score and I'm producing more belches than an 18-year-old in a beer-drinking contest. And I guarantee you my blood pressure is 150 over 90 right now.

    "... Everytime I bring up the operation, or someone asks me when I'm going into the hospital, I'm immediately deluged with everybody's surgical nightmare stories. You know, 'They left a 3/8th-inch drill in my cousin's lung' (laughs). Or 'I remember Harry. He had the hip replacement and two weeks later Harry had a stroke.' That's the one I heard yesterday from a bunch of friends at the workout place. Or, 'I read the Internet the other day that 62 percent of Irish Catholics who have hip-replacement surgery wind up with one leg shorter than the other.' That's another one I was told."
This afternoon on KGO radio, host David Lazarus said he wasn't ignoring Wilson's death, but said management decided they wouldn't take calls from listeners about it until Monday when they could prepare a proper tribute. But Lazarus said it felt like a death in the family and was going to let a few calls slip through anyway.

On sister station KSFO, Barbara Simpson was taking such calls, with many listeners noting his passion and his efforts to be fair to people on both sides of a story.

Update: An on-air memorial is planned from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday on KGO-AM.
    KGO-TV ABC7 President and General Manager Valari Staab said: "Pete was one of the most valued and respected news professionals in the Bay Area and the country. For more than 30 years, he was welcomed into the homes of thousands of local viewers reporting on every major news event that touched their lives. This is a deep loss both, personally and professionally for all of his friends and colleagues at Channel 7 and for me. Our thoughts and prayers are with Sandy and Brendan."

    KGO Radio President and General Manager Mickey Luckoff said: "He was never fully satisfied just reporting the facts of a situation ... He constantly questioned and probed the logic behind the beliefs and views of those in the news."

    ABC7 V.P. of News Kevin Keeshan said: "Pete Wilson had a passionate commitment to ethical, responsible journalism. He never hesitated to question the status quo and take on the conventional wisdom of the day. His endless enthusiasm and love for political debate and discussion will be missed by everyone in our news room."
Born and raised in central Wisconsin, Wilson was a graduate of the University of Wisconsin in journalism and creative writing. A Vietnam veteran, Wilson began his news broadcasting career on a small country-western station in Milwaukee, Wisconsin while attending graduate school.

Wilson came to San Francisco in 1983 and was the anchor who replaced the legendary Van Amburg at KGO-TV. Wilson remained at Channel 7 until 1990, when he moved to KRON Channel 4. In 2002, Wilson returned to KGO-TV.

He earned numerous honors, including Associated Press awards, five Emmys and he shared two Peabody awards.

During virtually his entire career, in addition to anchoring and reporting, Wilson has hosted talk and interview shows including the top-rated afternoon radio program on KGO-AM.

Wilson's family is asking people not to send flowers. Instead, they request you make a donation to the charity of your choice.

Update: Wilson's family said Sunday they appreciate the support from fans, friends, and colleagues. "We are overwhelmed, embraced and grateful for the expressions of sympathy and support we are experiencing. In a time of grief for our family we find comfort in knowing that Pete's larger family of friends, colleagues, viewers and listeners share this with us," Wilson's immediate family said in a statement.


Lexie said...

What ever happened to Van Amburg?
I still miss him as anchor.

Pete Wilson's passing has me thinking of him.

Pleasanton, CA

Anonymous said...

I am shocked to hear about Pete's passing. He was one of the brilliant news anchors and radio personalities in the Bay Area. My deepest condolences to his family during this difficult period.

Kelly said...

What a class act! Pete went out of his way to be fair to people. On his radio show, you could really hear how hard he tried to get both sides of any story. He gave his opinons on the radio, but on TV he was a professional and didn't even hint which way he felt about a controversial story. He will be missed.

Kate W. said...

Pete Wilson's death feels like a friend or family member has passed on, yet I didn't know him personally. But his radio show was very personal at times. I heard the last hour that you quoted above and it was typical of Pete, sharing his thoughts, fears and passions. The radio program gave him a different dimension than other TV anchors, showing us a personal side, and I think it's a reason why so many people feel a profound sense of loss upon hearing of his death.

Anonymous said...

you left out the controversy where a number of San Francisco supervisors wanted him fired becauase he criticized him for calling a gay supervisor wrong for wanting to raise a baby with a lesbian friend. ... his comments were uncaring, espeically considering that they were aimed at an infant

MK said...

I am so sad. I'm not sure why this has hit me so hard. I'm feeling an incredible loss and so much empathy for the family. He was a voice of reason.

Anonymous said...

Pete's death felt like the passing of a family member. He had a big impact on KGO and the broader community. He made the news interesting and always was able to leave me with a laugh.