Roger Ailes, the controversial former chairman of Fox News, died on Thursday, his wife, Elizabeth Ailes, announced. He was 77.
“I am profoundly sad and heartbroken to report that my husband, Roger Ailes, passed away this morning,” Elizabeth wrote in a statement to Drudge Report. “Roger was a loving husband to me, to his son Zachary, and a loyal friend to many. He was also a patriot, profoundly grateful to live in a country that gave him so much opportunity to work hard, to rise – and to give back. During a career that stretched over more than five decades, his work in entertainment, in politics, and in news affected the lives of many millions. And so even as we mourn his death we celebrate his life…”
In a statement provided to Entertainment Weekly via Fox, executive chairman of 21st Century Fox and Fox News Rupert Murdoch said, “Everybody at Fox News is shocked and grieved by the death of Roger Ailes. A brilliant broadcaster, Roger played a huge role in shaping America’s media over the last thirty years. He will be remembered by the many people on both sides of the camera that he discovered, nurtured and promoted. Roger and I shared a big idea which he executed in a way no one else could have. In addition, Roger was a great patriot who never ceased fighting for his beliefs. At 21st Century Fox we will always be enormously grateful for the great business he built. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Elizabeth and son Zachary.”
Ailes death was first reported on the network he helped launch via a breaking news alert on the morning show Fox & Friends.
As one of the founders of Fox News, Ailes helped build the network into one of the highest-rated cable media outlets as the founding CEO, beginning in 1996.
However, his life and career were marred by allegations of sexual harassment. He was the subject of a lawsuit from former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, which was followed by additional women coming forward with similar allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation. Megyn Kelly, another Fox News veteran, also claimed sexual harassment against Ailes in her memoir, though he denied them.
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Ailes, a polarizing figure, to say the least, resigned and was replaced by Rupert Murdoch as CEO and chairman of Fox on July 21 last year.
Prior to joining Fox, Ailes worked as a political consultant for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush. He recognized the influence of television on the masses. A 1970 memo he helped prepare titled “A Plan for Putting the GOP on TV News” (which was released by Gawker in 2011) read, “Today television news is watched more often than people read newspapers, than people listen to the radio, than people read or gather any other form of communication. The reason: People are lazy. With television you just sit—watch—listen. The thinking is done for you.”
Ailes would go on to introduce the world to right-leaning hosts like Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and Kelly.
Reaction to his death on social media is already poles apart. Hannity wrote in a series of tweets, “Were it not for Roger Ailes, I would not be the person I am today.”
“Today America lost one of its great patriotic warriors … He has dramatically and forever changed the political and the media landscape singlehandedly for the better,” Hannity continued. “Neither will ever be the same again as he was a true American original. Few people in this life will ever reach the profound level of impact that Roger Ailes had on the country every single day.”