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Jessica Savitch

Jessica Savitch was a multi-award-winning NBC News journalist whose rise to media stardom was slowly damaged by her personal instability, then quickly shattered by her bizarre, slurred and confused delivery of NBC's one-minute prime-time News Digest, shortly before her death.

She was the weekend anchor of the NBC Nightly News, substitute anchor for the weekday NBC Nightly News, host of the PBS series Frontline, and also the anchor of News Digest.

Jessica Savitch
Jessica Savitch
Biographical fast facts

Full or original name at birth: Jessica Beth Savitch

Date, time and place of birth: February 1, 1947, at 11:51 a.m., Delaware Hospital, Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.A.*

Date, time, place and cause of death: October 23, 1983, at 7:20 p.m., the Delaware Canal, near Chez Odette (the restaurant later became simply Odette's) 274 South River Road, New Hope, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. (Auto accident - drowned)

Marriage #1
Spouse: Mel Korn (m. January 6, 1980 - March 9, 1981) (divorced)
Wedding took place in the Terrace Room at the Plaza Hotel, New York City, New York, U.S.A.

Marriage #2
Husband: Dr. Donald Rollie Payne (m. March 21, 1981 - August 1, 1981) (his death)
Wedding took place at the National City Christian Church, Thomas Circle, Washington, D.C.

Parents
Father: David Savitch (a clothing store merchant, who was known as Buddy Savitch) (b. November 19, 1925, Coatesville, Pennsylvania - d. May 11, 1959, Memorial Hospital, Wilmington, Delaware, of uremic pericarditis and kidney disease)
Mother: Florence (Goldberger) Savitch (a registered nurse)

Remains: She was cremated and her ashes were scattered in the Atlantic Ocean.


Error corrections or clarifications

* Jessica's family lived in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, and that is where she was raised. However, contrary to what the overwhelming majority of sources report, she was actually born at Delaware Hospital, in Wilmington, Delaware. Birth records all confirm her birth took place in Wilmington, Delaware. Kennett Square, Pennsylvania is just a couple of miles north of the Pennsylvania-Delaware border, and is a little more than 10 miles from Wilmington.

Note that Jessica Savitch was not born "February 2" as a couple of sources erroneously report. Also note that as Jessica approached age 30, she shaved a year off her age, reporting "1948" as her year of birth.

The Encyclopedia Britannica Book of the Year 1984, reports not only the incorrect place of birth for Jessica Savitch, but also erroneously reports her date of death as "October 24" instead of the correct date of Sunday, October 23rd, 1983.


Biography

Jessica Savitch was just a teenager when she took her first job as a disc jockey and staff announcer with WOND-Radio, in Atlantic City, New Jersey (1962-64). She then found employment as a disc jockey and staff announcer with WBBF, a leading AM radio station in Rochester, New York (1966-68).

Later, while working as a researcher for WCBS-Newsradio, in New York City, (1969-70), a network executive suggested that she leave New York and prove herself as a journalist in a smaller market. She took the advice and went to work for KHOU-TV, in Houston, Texas as a general assignment reporter, (1970-72). An opportunity to serve as anchor and general assignment reporter with Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, television station KYW followed. Two years after her arrival, she had moved up to weekend anchor (1973-74), and went on to co-anchor their Eyewitness News from 1976-77. By this point, she had received several awards for some insightful reports, and her work had caught the eye of the network news bosses.

Once she signed aboard with NBC, she served as a substitute anchor for the weekday NBC Nightly News, and was the weekend anchor of the NBC Nightly News. Jessica also acted as substitute host of Tom Snyder's The Tomorrow Show, and as substitute co-host on The Today Show. She also anchored NBC's News Digest, which offered one-minute prime-time news updates. She would remain with NBC News from 1977 until her death in 1983. She also served as host of the PBS series Frontline (1983).

Her autobiography Anchorwoman was published in 1982, and was a bestseller.

By late 1982, her reputation in the news business had already been sullied by her erratic behavior, drug use, and recurrent screaming rants at co-workers. Despite her behavior behind the scenes, she remained very popular with the public. Shortly before 9 p.m., October 3rd, 1983, the public's perception of her changed. That night, during a live News Digest update she was delivering, Jessica appeared confused, mumbled and slurred her speech, and gave a rather incoherent version of the news. Those who saw her infamous public meltdown on prime-time television, assumed she was either drunk or high on drugs. It was claimed that she was on medication, the result of an injury to her nose that had required surgery several weeks earlier.

Regardless of the cause, one of NBC's star reporters had been humiliated on national television. Before the network brass could decide what to do with her and how to handle the fallout, her life ended.

Sunday, October 23, 1983, Jessica had been on a date with Martin Fischbein. Leaving a restaurant parking lot in the pouring rain, Fischbein drove out the wrong exit and ended up flipping the car into the Delaware Canal. The Oldsmobile station wagon in which Savitch was riding, sank upside down into several feet of mud, sealing the doors shut, and trapping them inside as the water poured in. She, Martin and her beloved dog Chewy, a Siberian husky, all drowned.


Sources

The most in-depth of more than three dozen sources consulted in preparing this profile:
Golden Girl: The Story of Jessica Savitch, by Alanna Nash (1988)
Almost Golden: Jessica Savitch and the Selling of Television News by Gwenda Blair (1988)
Anchorwoman, by Jessica Savitch (1982)


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