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Former CNN president Burt Reinhardt dies at 91

By the CNN Wire Staff
Burt Reinhardt served as president of CNN from 1983 to 1990. Ted Turner:"He just did a masterful job."
Burt Reinhardt served as president of CNN from 1983 to 1990. Ted Turner:"He just did a masterful job."
  • Burt Reinhardt was a key CNN executive during the network's crucial early years
  • He was a World War II combat photographer
  • Reinhardt worked for several organizations before CNN
  • He was an integral part of the network's organization, CNN founder Ted Turner says

(CNN) -- Burt Reinhardt, a television pioneer who helped lead the evolution of 24-hour news coverage as president of CNN, died Tuesday at 91, according to family members.

Reinhardt died in Georgia from complications of a series of strokes earlier this year, according to his daughter, Cheryl Reinhardt.

Cable News Network founder Ted Turner remembered Reinhardt, who stayed away from the limelight, as an influential, if taciturn, executive.

"We both wanted to run a great news organization," Turner said. "He just did a masterful job. He got the stories covered, but he did it within the budget."

After a stint as a vice president, Reinhardt served as CNN president from 1983 to 1990. He later was vice chairman of the organization until his retirement in 2000.

Former CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour said Reinhardt was a leader who made the trains run on time.

"He had a steely demeanor, but had a heart of gold," said Amanpour, who said Reinhardt hired her as a producer-reporter in New York after she pleaded her case.

"I'm not sure CNN would be here without him," said Turner, who launched CNN in 1980. His colleague was an "integral part of getting the whole operation going and keeping it going. He ran it close to 20 years."

A native of New York, Burton Reinhardt filmed U.S. Army Signal Corps combat footage during World War II, including Gen. Douglas MacArthur's historic return to the Philippines. Reinhardt later served as news editor for Fox Movietone News, according to his daughter. He also was vice president for United Press International Television News and executive vice president at Paramount Pictures, where he nurtured the development of home video.

"I tell people that in my opinion, he's probably the most important and powerful news executive you've never heard of," said nephew Harlan Reinhardt.

Amanpour said Reihnardt's past as a World War II photographer helped.

"I realized there and then that this wasn't just an executive in a suit. It's a man who's been there. This is a man who's one of us. This is a man who was in the field who covered the wars and so he knew what it took to run a news operation like CNN and keep it afloat when everybody was digging its grave."

Reese Schoenfeld, who was the first president of CNN and was replaced by Reinhardt, said Reinhardt's work was pivotal to the growth of the network.

"He was a person of integrity and a great newsman," said Schoenfeld. "I'm not sure that I would've had the financial discipline or the capability of doing that nearly as well as Burt did and it really saved the company -- it's the only reason CNN exists today.

Tom Johnson, who replaced Reinhardt as CNN's third president, said he developed an unusual relationship with him over the years.

"I will never forget that after Ted Turner and I reached an agreement that I would become the new president of CNN in 1990, I asked Ted, could I retain Burt Reinhardt as vice chairman of the company," Johnson said. "Most new CEO's coming in do not wish to have the former CEO around. But I just felt I needed - I needed Burt."

Johnson also credited Reinhardt for steering the news organization through trying financial times.

"I'm sure a lot of people will talk about Burt's fiscal responsibility. but I think what set Burt apart from everyone else who has been at CNN was that he was quietly strong," said Jim Walton, president of CNN Worldwide. "And behind the scenes, this man has integrity and he's very competitive, but he wants to do things the right way. He's fair, but firm and he treated everyone with respect."

Reinhardt helped solidify the CNN logo as a strong symbol.

The logo, now commonly known as a "bug" in broadcast jargon, is almost always on the television screen during CNN's news coverage. This idea was the brainchild of Reinhardt.

Reinhardt, who grew up in the Bronx, is survived by his wife, Diana Shaw; children, Cheryl Reinhardt of Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Gary Reinhardt of Provincetown, Massachusetts; and one grandchild. He was predeceased by son, Barry, and his identical twin, Sheldon.

CNN's Richard Roth, Katie Silver and Brian Vitagliano contributed to this report.