(born September 21
) is a television journalist
, well-known former CBS News
anchor and current host of A&E
crime and news documentary shows, including Investigative Reports
, American Justice
, and Cold Case Files
. Previously, he anchored CBS Morning News
and was a popular news anchor at WBBM-TV
, the CBS owned-and-operated station
Bill Kurtis was born Bill Kuretich
to Wilma Mary (Horton) and William A. Kurtis, a Marine Corps
general and decorated veteran of D-Day
. His father's military career resulted in extensive travel for the family. When they settled down, he was raised in Independence
In college, Kurtis was an announcer for KIND-AM, a commercial station in Independence of which he is currently a part owner. He graduated from The University of Kansas with a B.S. in journalism in 1962 and went on to earn his J.D. from the Washburn University School of Law in 1966. Despite passing the Kansas bar examination and winning a job with a Wichita law firm, Kurtis decided on a career in journalism.
Kurtis began his television career as a full time anchor
in Topeka, Kansas
. On the evening of June 8
, a severe thunderstorm 20 miles (32 km)
southwest of town generated a tornado that headed straight towards Topeka. Kurtis warned: "For God's sake, take cover." This warning became synonymous with the 1966 Topeka tornado
that left 16 dead and injured hundreds more. Kurtis remained on the air for 24 straight hours to cover the destruction. His performance during this disaster proved to be his big break.
He moved to Chicago in 1966 to work at WBBM-TV's Channel 2 News Chicago, first as a reporter and then as an anchorman. In 1982, he moved to New York to anchor the CBS Morning News, but returned to Chicago three years later to produce documentaries for the television show The New Explorers. Kurtis also returned to WBBM-TV at that time and worked as an anchorman there until 1996. He started his own production company, Kurtis Productions, in 1990 and joined the A&E cable television network the following year. He frequently appears on A&E as the host and narrator of Cold Case Files and American Justice.
Kurtis has received numerous awards for his television work, including over twenty Emmys and the Illinois Broadcasters Association 1998 Hall of Fame Award and the Kansas Association of Broadcasters 2003 Hall of Fame Award.
He was the narrator in the Will Ferrell comedy film Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, and also contributed a spoken-word intro to the Dandy Warhols' 2005 album Odditorium or Warlords of Mars.
Most recently, Kurtis was featured in a series of commercials for AT&T Mobility which poke fun at his serious investigative journalist persona. He appears on a tropical island or in a similarly desolate place and, after explaining the AT&T Laptop Connect Card, states "I'm Bill Kurtis, and I've just found [trademark pause] the Internet." He appears oblivious to the background, which features things such as the fuselage of Amelia Earhart's long-lost aircraft in one instance, the Fountain of Youth in another, a yeti in a third, and a leprechaun with a pot of gold in a fourth.
Kurtis and his longtime partner, Donna La Pietra, are very active on the Chicago social circuit, supporting numerous non-profit organizations. He has also done several public service announcements including RFB&D (Recording For The Blind and Dyslexic). Kurtis' wife, Helen (who was his high school sweetheart and whom he married in 1963), died of cancer in June 1977. They had two children, Mary Kristin (born December 1965) and Scott Erik (born October 1970).
Since 2005, Kurtis has become heavily involved in raising and marketing grass-fed beef. His 10,000-acre (40 km²) ranch in southeastern Kansas was once the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder. While looking for innovative uses for his ranch, Kurtis learned about the health and environmental benefits of grass-fed beef and founded Tallgrass Beef Company.
- Bill Kurtis on Assignment published October 1, 1983 (out of print) by Rand McNally; ISBN 0-528-81005-7
- American Justice published August 1, 1999 by TV Books Inc.; ISBN 1-57500-109-8
- The Death Penalty On Trial: Crisis in American Justice about the death penalty was published November 30, 2004 by PublicAffairs; ISBN 1-58648-169-X
In popular culture
- In episode 406 and 803 of the animated television series South Park the boys play the "Investigative Reports with Bill Kurtis" board game.
- Kurtis also appeared in the Season 6 Sopranos episode, Mayham, where he hosted an unidentified A&E special on the shooting of Tony Soprano.