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Longtime CNN correspondent Robert Vito dies of cancer

By Paul Caron, CNN
updated 10:36 PM EST, Thu November 14, 2013
Longtime CNN correspondent Robert Vito won two Cable ACE Awards and several national and local Emmys.
Longtime CNN correspondent Robert Vito won two Cable ACE Awards and several national and local Emmys.
  • Vito was CNN's first Detroit bureau chief, taking the job in 1982
  • He was with CNN for 17 years, also working in Rome, Los Angeles, Miami
  • Vito died Wednesday night after a long battle with pancreatic cancer

(CNN) -- He had a distinguished voice like actor Robert Stack and the looks of a Hollywood actor. But it was his investigative and storytelling skills that set longtime CNN correspondent and bureau chief Robert Vito apart from the rest.

Vito died Wednesday night at his son's home in Singapore after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

Vito was a correspondent for CNN for 17 years. In that time, he served as the first CNN Detroit bureau chief and later was the network's Rome bureau chief But he was better known for the stories he broke and covered. He won two Cable ACE Awards and several national and local Emmys.

With CNN, he covered some of the biggest stories of the '80s and '90s, including the Branch-Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas; the Oklahoma City bombing; and the O.J. Simpson murder trial.

Few knew it, but he was educated to be a teacher. He taught in a school in Illinois, but he wanted something different. He modeled in print ads and eventually landed a job as a radio reporter in Wisconsin.

It was an act of fate and weather that brought Vito into the forefront of television news.

In 1968, he had just been hired at WAEO-TV (now WJFW) in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, as a general assignment reporter.

But high winds knocked down the station's transmission tower. It knocked the station off the air, and Vito out of a job.

He took what little he had on a "demo reel," some radio reports from a previous job, and photos from his days as a model, to Milwaukee, where WISN-TV hired him.

Vito's reports there led to construction of highway median barriers on Milwaukee County freeways, and a career in TV investigative journalism was launched.

In 1973, he went to work for Detroit's WWJ-TV (which later became WDIV). In July 1975, Vito interviewed former Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa. It was Hoffa's last media interview, broadcast two weeks before his disappearance.

In 1982, Vito became the first Detroit bureau chief for CNN, just two years after the fledgling cable network's launch. The auto industry was a major part of his beat, and his reporting on industrial pollution affecting fish and possibly giving them cancer prompted a congressional hearing, where he testified and his reports were shown.

In 1988 he became CNN's Rome bureau chief, followed by a move to CNN's Los Angeles bureau the next year.

From L.A., he covered some of the top stories of the decade -- the Rodney King beating and the riots that followed, the Branch-Davidian standoff, the terrorist bombing in Oklahoma City, the O.J. Simpson criminal trial and the McMartin preschool case.

From there he went on to CNN's Miami Bureau, where he covered the trial of attorney F. Lee Bailey, the shooting down of civilian aircraft off the coast of Cuba, and the slaying of fashion designer Gianni Versace.

Vito left CNN in 1999 and worked as a jury consultant for a Tampa, Florida, legal consulting firm. He later worked on documentaries before leaving the business to take care of his wife, Nancy, who succumbed to cancer a year ago.

Last January, Independent News Service announced The Broadcast Industry recognition given to Vito for over 45 years of dedication to investigative journalism.

He's survived by his son John, John's wife, Thanita, and his grandson, Anthony.

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