Wednesday, January 28, 2009

30 years ago tonight: Nelson Rockefeller dies -- and a tabloid frenzy ensues

On this edition of "Eyewitness News," John Johnson reported that the former governor had died at his office in Rockefeller Center. But there was a lot more to the story. (Via realagentofSHIELD on YouTube)

Thirty years ago Monday tonight, former New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller died of a heart attack in Manhattan at the age of 70. The initial reports had the governor passing away at his office in Rockefeller Center, toiling away on a book about his modern art collection, one of Rocky's passions. But indeed, that was not the whole story. As the days progressed, a far more complicated and lurid picture emerged of the former vice president's final hours.

It turns out Rockefeller was not at his namesake building at all, but at his townhouse a few blocks up at 13 W. 54th St. And he was in the company of a young aide, 25-year-old Megan Marshack, when he was stricken. The tabloids had a field day with the death of the Standard Oil scion, with the story's elements of infidelity, indiscretion and cover-up. Disturbingly, help for the stricken governor was not called for up to an hour after his attack, and the details of the case proved too irresistible for "Saturday Night Live." A sketch that aired on Feb. 10, 1979 began with Don Pardo intoning: "'Emergency' starring Megan Marshack will not be seen tonight so that we may bring you this special presentation."

The story of Rockefeller's death is now steeped in city and political lore. Today, we present how New Yorkers found out about his death on the next day's edition of "Eyewitness News," with John Johnson and Anna Bond at the anchor desk. It's a remarkable report for its depth of coverage, and a very literate obituary by Roger Sharp. Ernie Anastos narrates dramatic footage of Rockefeller's arrival at the hospital, and there are shots of Rocky's wife, "Happy," arriving on the scene later. Click below for a look at where the story stood before its tabloid elements began to emerge, when the greatest blot on Rockefeller's reputation was still described as his handling of the Attica prison riot in 1971.

-- Rolando Pujol

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