Monday, December 15, 2014

12.15.14 Hero of the Day: Bill Bonds

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Name: Bill Bonds
Age: was 82
Occupation: legendary news anchor and commentator
Last Seen: in the great beyond
Awarded For: being the best news anchor in Michigan history
This has not been a good week for Michigan broadcast legends.

In just one week, 58-year broadcast legend Merlin Dumbrille of WTCM Traverse City and Les Root, whose voice was heard on Flint radio for decades both died. Now, the biggest nail in the coffin has been hammered down shut.

For years, Bill Bonds was THE Walter Cronkite of Detroit. He could have been just another forgettable newscaster who moved from market to market, reading off a teleprompter, but he added a true honesty to news anchoring that's now sadly, a part of the past.

Like many successful TV news anchors, Bonds first worked in radio. But in 1963, he started working at WXYZ-TV as a booth announcer. Around that time, WXYZ, along with other ABC-owned-and-operated stations developed their own news departments. Bonds eventually made his way in front of the camera and was often lauded for his reporting of the 1967 riots. However, in 1968, he moved to Los Angeles to work at KABC-TV. It was in L.A. where Bonds even made an appearance as himself in Return of the Planet of the Apes. However, being a Detroit native, he missed The Motor City, so he moved back in 1971. Just two years later, WXYZ was the top-rated news station in Detroit. Not shabby for a network, ABC, that was a fifth wheel in the ratings throughout most of the 50s and 60s, but rose to prominence in the 70s.

In 1975, Bonds was awarded one of the largest contracts in the history of local television: a million dollars per year, per life. People tuned in to Bonds not just for the news, but for his adventurous views on various topics during his commentaries. The death of John Lennon in 1980, seen above, was one of his most-famous commentaries and with school shootings making headlines today, his commentary from all those years ago still stands tall today.

Bonds was known for standing up for his viewers and often issued challenges for many he felt needed to have their sorry ass kicked. Detroit mayor Coleman Young was one; Bonds reportedly issued a fist fight with him on the air. Utah senator Orrin Hatch even left his set during an interview. He interviewed many famous faces in his career: Bill Clinton, Lee Iacocca and Joe Dumars to name a few. When Bill Bonds talked, people listened.

However, Bill had his demons. He was left go from WXYZ-TV in 1995 after a drunk driving arrest. Bill fought with the bottle for years, but thanks to counseling used his downfall to teach others how to cope. He did bounce back to do a show for Fox 2 WJBK in the late 90's, but ultimately retired from television news soon after. In the 2000's and beyond, he was a spokesperson for local furniture store chain Gardner-White.

In 2008, he hosted one last newscast for WXYZ, marking the station's 60th anniversary. He co-hosted it with long time partner John Kelly and wife Marilyn Turner, who handled weather duties.

Sadly, Bill Bonds' health has been far from perfect for years and died at his home near Detroit at the age of 82 on Saturday. True, he had his imperfections and even a few bloopers along the way, he told it as it was for many Michiganders. While newsmen come and go, Bill loved Detroit and the passion he showed doing the news on Channel 7 for decades showed. In the days of cookie cutter journalism where everything is rip and read and there's no commentary, plus the fact that if it doesn't trend, it's not news, it shows that losing Bill Bonds is definitely the end of an era. I sometimes wished that we had more news people who had the balls to say what's on his or her mind. Hell, maybe I should do the news myself since I've been writing these blogs for 15 years. But, since most TV stations are owned by companies that try to affix their newscasts to their template (just look at Gannett and even WXYZ's current owner, Scripps), it'll never happen.

But, Bill had a wonderful life. He was colorful and it helped him become a legend. By the way, it was rumored for years that he was the inspiration for Will Ferrell's Anchorman, but that was Mort Crim of rival WDIV channel 4, the market's NBC station.

But one day, Mort, now 79, will be paying Bill a visit. 

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