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
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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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