Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Death of Jessica Savitch

As one of the first women in the all-male news business, Jessica Savitch had a difficult time; to be too acquiescent might mean losing respect from those who mattered most to her career, and to be too tough meant risking being labeled a bitch*. Additionally, there was pressure on her to always look good, which is not something David Brinkley or Eric Sevareid ever had to worry about.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAlthough Savitch herself penned a memoir called Anchorwoman in 1982, the biography of record on Savitch's life is still Gwenda Blair's Almost Golden: Jessica Savitch and the Selling of Television News, published in 1988, five years after the tragic accident that took Savitch's life.

On this day in 1983 Savitch had dinner with her boyfriend Martin Fischbein, vice-president of the New York Post, at a restaurant called Odette's in New Hope, Pennsylvania. Driving home in a heavy rainstorm, Fischbein lost control of the vehicle, whereupon it skidded into the Pennsylvania Canal and landed upside down in about 15 feet of water. There is evidence that Fischbein may have been knocked unconscious in the accident, but it was obvious to rescuers that Savitch had tried and failed to escape the flooding vehicle. Along with the two humans, Savitch's dog Chewy also drowned. Savitch was 36.

I had been quite a fan of Savitch's, and still am; I remember being deeply shocked when I'd heard what had happened. In the wake of the accident there were all sorts of dark rumours, as there usually are unless someone dies of old age. Savitch's battles with NBC were already legendary, and her cocaine use was well-known; in fact, her colleague Linda Ellerbee was to have held an intervention, except that Savitch died before she could.

*Oh no!  Anything but that...
*
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2 comments:

usefulminutiae said...

I was only 2 years old when she died, but I've watched several of her broadcasts online...I find her to be a fascinating woman and role model, and have researched her life/death. I actually live quite close to New Hope and have visited the site of her drowning. Great photo of Savitch, by the way. Haven't seen that one before.

michael sean morris said...

I was just turning 14 and had been a huge fan of hers from about the age of 8. At the time she'd been in the press due to the alleged scandal of her stoned newscast, so the death coming hard on top of that was like a double shock.

She was, is, and will always be a legend.