Veteran journalist Mike Willesee has died at the age of 76 following a lengthly battle with throat cancer.
The legendary reporter sadly passed away this week after first being diagnosed with the disease in 2016, ABC reports.
Willesee was regarded as one of the country’s best television journalists and presenters and spent more than 50 years working as a reporter, for the ABC, the Nine Network and the Seven network.
The journalist was first launched into the spotlight in 1967 on the ABC’s then current affairs program This Day Tonight after grilling then-prime minister Harold Holt in an interview about his decision not to reappoint ABC chairman James Darling, who Holt was reportedly annoyed with over negative coverage of his government. The interview cemented Willesee as a reporter who wasn’t afraid to ask the hard questions and who would push his interviewees to answer the questions put to them.
Perhaps his most famous interview is ‘The Birthday Cake Interview’ with former Liberal Party leader John Hewson, just days before the 1993 Federal election. The Liberal Party was promoting the GST at the time, but Hewson came undone when he failed to answer Willesee’s simple question about how the tax would work. The Liberals lost the election in a landslide defeat and many pointed to Willesee’s interview as the reason for their downfall.
Willesee also hosted Nine’s A Current Affair program when it first launched in 1971, before leaving the network for the 10 Network where he was director of news and current affairs.
The reporter opened up about his cancer diagnosis on a 2017 episode of Australian Story. He told the ABC program the most difficult part was receiving his diagnosis.
“I was getting sick and I had a lot of pain in one side of my jaw,” he said.
Willesse revealed by the time he received his diagnosis the cancer had already spread from his throat to his organs.
“It was cancer. The prognosis wasn’t very good. Six to 12 months,” he said.
The program revealed that Willessee’s doctors believe his many years on the road as a cigar-twirling, hard-drinking reporter contributed to his throat cancer.
Although he was accepted into a trial for a new immunotherapy drug that makes the cancer more ‘visable’ and easy to target, it ultimately failed him.
“It worked like a miracle. My throat, neck and lungs were riddled with cancer and after a few months they were all gone. It’s really hard to believe,” Willesee said.
But the cancer soon returned and he began radiation therapy. Although his prognosis is difficult to come to terms with, Willesee told the program he wasn’t giving up yet.
Willesee is survived by his six children. His son Michael Willesee Jr is also a journalist and is married to 60 Minutes reporter Allison Langdon.