AUSTRALIAN journalists and audiences have paid tribute to veteran reporter Mike Willesee, who has died following a battle with throat cancer.
Willesee started his 50-year television career with the ABC before high-profile periods with the Nine and Seven networks.
The 76-year-old was known for his uncompromising interview style and willingness to push the envelope.
In a statement, an ABC spokeswoman said the broadcaster was saddened to hear of the loss and extended deepest condolences to Willesee’s family.
“Mike was a great of Australian journalism, and is an important part of the ABC’s history,” the ABC said.
“He has many friends and former colleagues here, and many more admirers who have been inspired by the talent, integrity and bravery that distinguished his career and life.”
#mikewillesee. Shock, sad news. We clashed a lot but he was one of the TV current affairs trailblazers. The master of the destructive, disbelieving, pause in interviews.
— Derryn Hinch (@HumanHeadline) March 1, 2019
Colleagues and admirers have taken to social media to pay tribute after news broke of the journalist’s death on Friday.
“He was one of the true pioneers of TV journalism in Australia, an outstanding interviewer and a presence in every Australian living room for decades. Vale,” tweeted ABC News director Gaven Morris.
“Deeply saddened to hear that our colleague and TV legend Mike Willesee has passed away,” tweeted Seven Network Sunday Night host Melissa Doyle.
Deeply saddened to hear that our colleague and TV legend Mike Willesee has passed away. Our thoughts are with his family. We’ll remember an incredible journalist, tenacious and tough. A loss for our industry. #sn7 #7news pic.twitter.com/frCLuecanD
— Melissa Doyle (@melissadoyle) March 1, 2019
“We’ll remember an incredible journalist, tenacious and tough. A loss for our industry.”
Born on June 29, 1942 in Perth, Western Australia, Willesee was the son of ALP Senator Donald Willesee.
He was first introduced to Australian audiences in 1967 on the ABC current affairs program This Day Tonight.
The journalist’s fearless interviewing style earned the wrath of many of his subjects but also made him an influential figure.
Willesee’s famous interview with former Opposition Leader John Hewson on the GST was widely credited with changing the course of the 1993 federal election.
He asked Hewson a simple question: “If I buy a birthday cake from a cake shop and GST is in place do I pay more or less for that birthday cake?”
The then-opposition leader tied himself in knots trying to answer the question, and lost the election 10 days later.
In April 1967 the Holt government decided not to reappoint ABC chairman Dr James Darling – a move attributed to Willesee’s critical coverage of Holt’s policies on the ABC.
Willesee went on to host the ABC’s flagship current affairs program Four Corners from 1969 to 1971, before joining the Nine Network as host of A Current Affair.
In a varied career which has also included horse breeding and racing, Willesee also was a one-time host of Australia’s This is Your Life.
In 2002 he was inducted into the TV Week Logie Awards Hall of Fame.
Sad to hear of the death of Mike Willesee. We worked together. Nice man. Great pioneering TV journalist, and the absolute prince of television interviewers.
— Mike Carlton (@MikeCarlton01) March 1, 2019
During a profile on Australian Story in 1998, Willesee said a plane crash in Kenya that year prompted a return to the Roman Catholicism of his youth.
“That made me stop and think about God,” he told the program.
“I thought on balance there probably was a God otherwise this world doesn’t make much sense.”