It’s been some time, but I’ll never forget it. I was at KTLA-TV. A plane piloted by JFK Jr. had crashed into the Atlantic near Martha’s Vineyard. John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn and sister-in-law Lauren, were all missing. They put me on the air with the news. I read a bulletin, saying we’d be back with more as it became available. We then cut back to regular programming while our newsroom bosses wondered what to do next. I didn’t have to think about it. I grabbed my organizer and found Joe’s number. I handed it to an intern and asked her to make the call. Less than 20 minutes later, Joe and I were on live chatting about the life not only of JFK Jr., but about the entire Kennedy family. Cerrell, had worked on JFK’s campaign here in California. Beyond that, for so many years, he was one of the top political consultants in the state. His knowledge was encyclopedic. Our conversation went on for quite some time with no one in the booth telling us to “cut” or “wrap it up.” It was just that interesting, because when it came to politics, Joe Cerrell was just that interesting. It was some of the best television I have ever done. Thanks to Joe Cerrell.
Later, I remember hooking up with Joe one very cold morning up in Sacramento. A gubernatorial race was underway and a prominent Democrat was coming in for a rally. It could have been Bill Clinton, I can’t remember just now. I do remember Joe waving at the limo as it drove by, and the bigshot democrat in the car waving back at Joe. I also remember other reporters gathering round just out of view of my camera to listen to what he had to say when we went on the air.
That was Joe Cerrell. When he talked, people listened.
The last time I saw Joe, it was in his office over in Larchmont. I was there with a camera in tow for an interview about one political issue or another and had gone to Cerrell for his informed analysis. He was the same as always. Smiling, positive and filled with what seemed to be a limitless fascination for the world of politics.
The late teacher, philosopher and sage, Joseph Campbell advised us to “follow our bliss.” I think that’s precisely what Joe Cerrell did and he succeeded because of it.
It was a privilege to have had an opportunity to work with the man.
Published reports indicate he died of pneumonia.
Our condolences to the Cerrell family.
A memorial service is planned. Details can be found at josephcerrell.com.