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[Deathwatch] Chip Moody, anchorman, 54



Chip Moody dies at age 54 

By KEN PARISH PERKINS
Star-Telegram TV Critic 
 
The beloved anchorman became a Texas broadcasting legend over 30 years
on the air in Fort Worth-Dallas. Chip Moody, the consummate television
anchorman whose 30-year Texas broadcasting career established him as an
enduring image and a dogged but good-natured reporter with a zest for
life, died Wednesday at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas
after a long illness. He was 54.

Mr. Moody, whose popularity didn't wane despite being off the air for
two years, remains the only anchor to have worked at three Fort
Worth-Dallas stations while sitting atop the ratings. In a career that
took him from KXAS/Channel 5 to KDFW/Channel 4 and eventually to
WFAA/Channel 8, Mr. Moody was known for his reports on the Killeen
murders, the Lubbock tornado, political conventions, presidential
inaugurations, a five-part series on cancer, and a joyful sense of
humor that often had his co-anchors doubled over with laughter during
commercial breaks.

In 1986, Mr. Moody was found to have Hodgkin's disease. He successfully
fought the cancer, but his body was ravaged by the aftereffects of
chemotherapy. Despite chronic health problems in the '90s that included
massive internal bleeding, intestinal blockages, and the eventual
removal of his spleen, appendix, gallbladder and stomach, Mr. Moody
boasted of living life "with a fighter-pilot mentality" and anticipated
a return to Channel 8. Just two months ago, Mr. Moody was in the
station's studio going through the mail in his untouched office.
Colleagues and friends would jokingly refer to him as "the bionic man"
and would never bet against a Moody return.

Channel 8 viewers last saw him in April 1999.

"He just fought so hard," said Channel 8 General Manager Kathy
Clements-Hill. "Just because Chip overcame all the odds every time, no
matter how bad we heard it might be, all us would go: 'You know Chip.
He'll be back.' That's what we're going through now. Wow. This time he
won't be back."

Mr. Moody's wife, Vikki, said, "The good thing was that the family was
with him. He recognized us. We all had a chance to say goodbye."

John McCaa, current Channel 8 anchor, said Mr. Moody made a unique and
valuable connection with the viewer: "They saw him as a friend. Someone
they really knew. ... No matter how bad the story or how dangerous the
situation, he brought people a sense of comfort."

Robert "Chip" Phelp Moody, born March 31, 1947, in Oakland, Calif., the
oldest of four children, was tailor-made for the anchor desk - with his
leading-man good looks, conversational style and penchant for the
dramatic. His factual but friendly presence helped him gain viewers no
matter which station he ventured to, dispelling the notion that viewers
watch stations and not anchors.

But Mr. Moody was also the consummate good-time guy who wanted everyone
around him to join in the fun. He was "sometimes like a caricature
because of his booming voice and movie-star good looks," remembers Lisa
McRee, who co-anchored with Mr. Moody for two years. "But he had this
self-deprecating sense of humor that showed that he was quite
comfortable with all that."

Mr. Moody, an avid flier and skier, wanted to be a jet-fighter pilot,
like his father. (The nickname Chip comes from his father, Robert,
because he seemed to be such a "chip off the old block.")

"He was a little boy in a big man's body," McRee said. "He really did
have this wild sense of adventure. He's certainly the only serious
newsman I know who owns his own Elvis costume and would not just show
up at parties wearing it but strut in it."

Tracy Rowlett, the CBS 11 anchor who paired with Mr. Moody during his
tenure at Channel 8, says his "optimistic" attitude was infectious. "He
was always a pretty happy person, no matter what was going on," he
said. "But if we get anything from this, it's the fact that he beat the
odds for a long time."

Rowlett knows firsthand about Mr. Moody's resilience.

In June of 1995, doctors told Mr. Moody's wife to prepare for the
worst. Rowlett went into Channel 8 that Sunday morning to piece
together a video obituary. "I did it with tears in my eyes," Rowlett
said.

But Mr. Moody survived and would later look at the video and laugh, the
bionic man defying death again.

"He'd joke about it," Rowlett said. "That was Chip. He was a good guy.
He had a big ego; there no question about that. But he laughed at
himself. There wasn't a mean bone in Chip's body."

Said sportscaster Dale Hansen, who worked with Mr. Moody at both
Channel 4 and Channel 8: "All of us in this business like being on TV;
he needed it. It was his world. We were just a part of it."

A graduate of Baylor University, Mr. Moody landed his first TV job
while still a student, signing on as a general assignment reporter for
a five-watt station in Waco for $100 a week. Later, at age 23, he would
become the youngest news director in the state while at an ABC
affiliate in El Paso. Soon after he joined WBAP (then the call letters
for Channel 5) in 1971 as a weekend reporter, he was anchoring on
weekdays on the coveted 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts.

Mr. Moody would become one of the station's most visible personalities.
Pairing him with Ward Andrews, Channel 5 had a firm hold on first place
in the ratings, a position it didn't relinquish until 1975 when Channel
8 rose to prominence.

But even as Channel 5 lost ground, Mr. Moody's popularity grew. That
fact wasn't lost on third-place Channel 4, which overnight made Moody
the highest-paid anchor in the market at nearly $125,000 a year. Paired
with Clarice Tinsley, Mr. Moody helped the station sprint to a virtual
tie for first with Channel 8. "He had a very real connection to viewers
that few anchors have," Tinsley said. "He was one of a kind."

In 1984, he made his next move, out of Dallas, to Houston's struggling
KHOU. It was while he was at KHOU that Mr. Moody, while riding in an
antique firetruck during a parade benefiting, oddly enough, Houston's
M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, felt a swelling on the right side of his
neck.

Moody would later learn that the egg-sized tumor was cancerous.

Struggling in Houston, Mr. Moody returned to Dallas in 1987 to take an
anchor job with Channel 8. Mr. Moody would say later it was "my saving
grace."

Even after a 16-month recovery period, doctors had warned Mr. Moody
that cancer treatments might give him trouble down the road with some
other organs. But as Mr. Moody said in a March interview with the
Star-Telegram: "They told me if I didn't take the radiation, I won't
even get down the road."

His intestinal problems began in the early 1990s and had put him in and
out of hospitals ever since.

Whether Mr. Moody should return to the air would become an issue. In
1998, when Mr. Moody was ill but still on the air, Channel 8 received
phone calls and letters from angry viewers accusing the station of
"working a sick man to death."

Mr. Moody was struck by the irony that a man whose looks had once been
a plus was now a liability. Mr. Moody would leave the air again for
seven months only to return, looking frail with sunken eyes and little
stamina. But the newscasts continued, off and on, through April 1999.

"What you didn't want to see was Chip in pain," McCaa said. "And he'd
been in a lot of pain for a long time. Yet he was not the kind of
person who complained about that. If he was sick, he had to be told to
go home."

Channel 8 weatherman Troy Dungan, a close friend of Mr. Moody's, said
he was sure Mr. Moody's "last conscious thought was to be back with
us."

The prospect of getting back into the anchor chair is probably what
sustained Mr. Moody, friends say. He loved the life of delivering the
news and the kind of celebrity it brought him.

Nowhere is that life more on display than in Mr. Moody's den in his
Dalworthington Gardens home, which he called "the bunker." Walls are
full of awards, Emmys and the like, and pictures. Mr. Moody and Jack
Nicholson. Mr. Moody and Dan Rather. Mr. Moody and Oliver Stone. Mr.
Moody with Christie Brinkley.

"I can sit in here, turn in my chair, and review my life," Mr. Moody
said in March. "And from this vantage point, at least, it doesn't look
half-bad."

Mr. Moody is survived by his wife, Vikki; son, Trae; daughter, Tiffin;
brothers, Kelly and Bruce; his father, Robert Phelp Moody; and a
sister, Kate. Arrangements are pending. In lieu of flowers, the family
has asked that contributions be made to the Chip Moody Child Care Fund,
c/o Children's Medical Center of Dallas, 2777 Stemmons Freeway, Suite
1025, Dallas, 75207-2230.