Former WGN-TV Anchor And Chicago Broadcasting Pioneer Merri Dee Passes Away At 85

Former WGN-TV Anchor And Chicago Broadcasting Pioneer Merri Dee Passes Away At 85

Merri Dee

Photo: Merri Dee, July 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Scott Eisen)

Pioneer journalist Merri Dee was a staple on Chicago broadcasting in the 1970s and 1980s. Dee died on March 16 at the age of 85.

According to her family, she passed away peacefully in her sleep overnight.

She was a local TV personality with 43 years in Chicago broadcasting, nearly all of them spent at independent TV station WGN-TV. Dee was on-air from 1972 to 1983 and later served as director of community relations until 2008.

The broadcasting legend started her career in radio in 1966 and moved to TV in 1968.

She survived a kidnapping and a shooting in 1971. Dee and a guest on her show, amateur psychic Alan Sandler, were kidnapped while sitting in her car outside WSNS-TV studios. They were taken to a remote location and both were shot in the back of the head, ABC 7 Chicago reported. Sandler died.

“I smile because it’s only because of my faith that I believe that I’m supposed to be here,” Dee said of the incident in a 2013 interview on “Windy City Live.”

“I’m supposed to be here. The gentleman who was with me did not live, and here I am,” she said.

While the reason for the attack seems unclear, a man named Samuel Drew was later convicted in the attack and murder. 

“One person really can make a difference. I was angry when he [Drew] received a 120-year sentence. After 12 years, he was getting out of jail,” Dee said. “I thought, well, I’m just not going to stand for this.”

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Dee became a gun control advocate and lobbied state and city politicians. The first Illinois Victims Bill of Rights law was passed and the legislation has served as a model for other states.

A statement from Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot was posted on Dee’s website. It said in part: “Merri Dee was a homegrown, broadcasting legend whose time as an anchor and radio and talk show host made her a beloved, local celebrity. In addition to her television and radio work, she also made a huge impact on communities across our city and state through a number of philanthropic pursuits that reflected her passion for protecting vulnerable individuals such as children in need of adoptive homes. Merri Dee has truly made a positive and indelible mark on our city and inspired countless others to follow in her footsteps.”

Dee was inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists’ Hall of Fame and was also the Illinois State President of AARP.

WGN-TV released the following statement on her death.

“Chicago’s very own, Merri Dee, was a one-of-a-kind legend. From WGN staff announcer to hosting parade telecasts, telethons and even the Illinois Lottery drawings, she was synonymous with WGN-TV. She was groundbreaking in the broadcasting field and an inspiration to several generations of young women. Among her greatest legacies as Director of Community Relations, she spoke at thousands of events and helped raise over $30 million for WGN-TV Children’s Charities, benefitting various organizations throughout Chicagoland. Merri Dee was a pioneer who will be greatly missed.”


Photo: Merri Dee inside of the Chicago Food Depository in Chicago, July 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Scott Eisen)