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Peter Jennings, 67, ABC anchor

Broadcaster delivered news in five decades

Peter Jennings, whose cool, urbane style as anchorman of ABC's ''World News Tonight" for more than two decades helped make him one of America's best-known and most-admired journalists, died yesterday at his New York home of complications from lung cancer. He was 67.

''Peter has been our colleague, our friend, and our leader in so many ways. None of us will be the same without him," ABC News President David Westin said late yesterday.

Mr. Jennings announced in April that he had lung cancer and would be undergoing chemotherapy.

''Almost 10 million Americans are living with cancer," Mr. Jennings said in an e-mail to ABC colleagues announcing his illness. ''I am sure I will learn from them how to cope with the facts of life that none of us anticipated."

Mr. Jennings's death completed a remarkable, and remarkably rapid, generational transition in broadcast news. Tom Brokaw stepped down as anchor of ''NBC Nightly News" in December, and Dan Rather retired from ''The CBS Evening News" in March. All three assumed their posts at roughly the same time: Rather in March 1981, both Brokaw and Mr. Jennings in September 1983.

They had one other important thing in common: having to deal with the steady erosion of network news viewership. At the time Mr. Jennings took over as anchor of ''World News Tonight," the three network evening newscasts had a combined average of 43 million viewers. At the time he announced he had cancer, that viewership was 24 million.

The similarities among Mr. Jennings, Rather, and Brokaw largely ended there. Each had a distinct, and distinctly different, persona. Rather, from Texas, presented a sometimes unsettling combination of folksiness and intensity. Brokaw, a South Dakotan, never lost a touch of heartland twang in his speech and even as he grew gray retained a winning boyishness.

Mr. Jennings seemed almost exotic by comparison. Born in Toronto, he retained more than a trace of a Canadian accent (he pronounced ''about" aboot). Mr. Jennings acquired dual US and Canadian citizenship in 2003.

There was nothing homey or aw-shucks about Mr. Jennings. He projected an air of detachment and unflappability. ''The very model of an authoritative anchor," Ken Auletta called Mr. Jennings in his book ''Three Blind Mice: How the TV Networks Lost Their Way." Perhaps the most bravura example of Mr. Jennings's anchor-desk imperturbability came as 1999 gave way to 2000: Anchoring ABC's coverage, he broadcast live for 25 consecutive hours.

Many years as a foreign correspondent gave Mr. Jennings a patina of cosmopolitanism that Rather and Brokaw lacked. That he looked so natural wearing a trench coat was more than just a matter of expensive tailoring.

As ABC's Beirut correspondent during the 1970s, Mr. Jennings established the first network news bureau in an Arab country. He played a key role in ABC's coverage when Palestinian terrorists took Israeli athletes hostage during the 1972 Summer Olympics. Based in London, he served as foreign desk anchor for ''World News Tonight" from 1978-1983, sharing overall anchor duties with Frank Reynolds and Max Robinson.

Mr. Jennings's sophisticated manner helped lend him a sense a dash, as did his handsomeness. ''He's 10 times better than people have a right to expect," an NBC News producer told TV Guide in the early '80s, ''because he's so good looking."

Dashing Mr. Jennings may have seemed, but never frivolous. ''I believe everybody at ABC News should be held to one high standard. And if we are, there will never be any reason for ABC News to be embarrassed," Mr. Jennings said in a 2001 Boston Globe interview. ''I have as much voyeur in me as anybody," he said, ''but other people do it better than us."

A consistent seriousness marked Mr. Jennings's approach to the news. He liked to say that educating viewers about issues, especially those concerning international affairs, was his greatest satisfaction as a journalist.

The demands of network television often dictated that Mr. Jennings had to put his abilities to lesser uses. Last February, he hosted a prime-time special, ''Peter Jennings Reporting: UFOs -- Seeing Is Believing."

One of the few times Mr. Jennings's on-air aplomb deserted him was during coverage of the O.J. Simpson low-speed highway chase, in 1994. ABC's Hugh Downs, after speculating as to what Simpson might be thinking, asked Mr. Jennings what he believed was going on in the former football star's mind. ''I haven't the vaguest idea, Hugh," he replied, betraying more than a tinge of exasperation. A little later, he offended Barbara Walters, telling her to be ''quiet," so he could note an important development.

Such cracks in Mr. Jennings's self-possession were rare. He was in many ways a broadcasting natural. His father, Charles Jennings, was a well-known newscaster for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. His mother was Elizabeth (Osborne) Jennings.

Mr. Jennings's talents became evident at an early age. He first began broadcasting at 9, as host of ''Peter's People," a weekly half-hour children's program on the CBC.

Such precocity ultimately led to Mr. Jennings's being named ABC news anchor in 1965. At 26, he was the youngest person to hold such a post. The network tapped him in an effort to reach younger audiences. Although ratings did increase slightly, the move backfired, as critics saddled Mr. Jennings with such unflattering titles as ''glamourcaster," and ''anchorboy."

In addition to his lack of experience, Mr. Jennings made a number of gaffes because of his foreign background, such as mispronouncing ''Appomattox" and mistaking ''The Marine Hymn" for ''Anchors Aweigh."

No one was as aware as Mr. Jennings of the difficulty of his position. ''It was a little ridiculous," he told Barbara Matusow for her book, ''The Evening Stars." ''A 26-year-old trying to compete with [CBS's Walter] Cronkite, [NBC's Chet] Huntley, and [David] Brinkley. I was simply underqualified."

After three years, Mr. Jennings stepped down to become national correspondent.

Peter Charles Jennings was born on July 29, 1938. He dropped out of school in 10th grade. ''I was bored," he said in a 1988 Globe interview. ''I'm not very proud of it, I must say. There's none of this self-made man crap at all."

Mr. Jennings held a variety of radio and television jobs in Canada, culminating in his becoming co-anchor of Canada's first nightly newscast on a commercial network. While covering the 1964 Democratic convention, he was noticed by the head of ABC News.

Mr. Jennings initially turned down the offer of a correspondent's job, thinking he wasn't experienced enough. He soon changed his mind. He also initially rejected the offer of the anchor position. An ABC colleague, Howard K. Smith, argued for taking it. ''It's like being nominated for president," Smith said. ''You can't turn it down."

Among many other honors, Mr. Jennings was the winner of 14 Emmy Awards and two George Foster Peabody Awards. He was the author, with Todd Brewster, of ''The Century" (1998) and ''In Search of America" (2002).

Mr. Jennings, whose first three marriages ended in divorce, leaves his wife, Kayce Freed; a son, Christopher, 23, and a daughter, Elizabeth, 25.

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