Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Remembering Charles Kuralt

Posted January 25, 2007
Updated January 26, 2007

     The last time I saw Charles Kuralt he was smoking a cigarette outside the studios of UNC Television in Research Triangle Park. The year was 1997. I can't believe it's been ten years. Little did I know that in just a few weeks I would be covering his funeral in Chapel Hill.

     The last words Charles said to me were: "Bill, the next time you're in New York please stop by and see me." I truly believe he meant that. Charles had driven his black Mercedes down from the Big Apple for the taping of a poetry series at UNC. He invited me over for an interview. We really connected.

     Kuralt had long been a journalistic hero with his brilliant writing style and unique stories from the road and in the studio on Sunday Morning for CBS. My Tar Heel Traveler and Spirit of Carolina news reports in the 1980's and 1990's were patterned after Kuralt's 20 year, 600 plus episode "On the Road" series during which the Wilmington native logged more 1,000,000 miles in a motor home. Kuralt was the poet of America's backroads and I thought about him this week after reading  responses to my blog "Missing the Road." 

     The first time I met Charles was at a UNC-Kentucky football game in Chapel Hill.  He was flipping ashes from a cigarette and they burned a hole in his blue dress shirt.  The next time I saw him he was doing a reporter seminar at WRAL.  I asked him about his gift of creativity.  He credited his "gift" to the Cluttered Mind Theory.  He said keep your mind cluttered with interesting thoughts, words and phrases and "you will always be able to write." 

    As we approach the ten year anniversary of his passing I know some may be hesitant to celebrate his life because of his 29 year extra marital affair which came to light two years after his death.  Author Ralph Grizzle sums up my feelings and those of many others who loved Charles Kuralt:  "Each Sunday morning as Charles spoke to us seated on a stool, he was perched, in our minds, on a pedestal. Well aware of his own flaws, he never aspired to such lofty heights. He drank too much, he smoked too much, he ate too much and, now, it seems, he loved too much. May we forgive his excesses as readily as we embraced, unknowingly, of course, the emotional deficits that drove him to seek out the people and places that so enthralled him, and through him, us." 

     What are your memories of Charles Kuralt?


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  • dholt Jan 26, 2007

    Charles Kuralt was one of those CBS iconic players - along with Cronkite, Sevareid, Schieffer, Osgood, and others. He was a classic personality who was loved by all. Being a fellow North Carolinian now living in Atlanta, I remembered his "On The Road" story coming thru my hometown of Smithfield. There were 2 things he showed when he came through - the Burlington Plant across from the hospital, and the KKK sign at the Neuse River bridge / City Limits sign. Now that was embarrassing. I always looked forward to his stories & how he brought the simple American stories into our homes each week. No other networks mattered then & now - it has always been CBS for me, because of the real stories from great newsmen like Charles Kuralt.

  • packandcanesfan Jan 26, 2007

    Charles Kuralt was a joy to watch. He could talk to anyone about any subject. Hearing that familiar booming voice on Sunday mornings was always a comfort somehow. What a sad loss for the world and especially North Carolina.

  • lovetheheels Jan 25, 2007

    I recall the distinct thrill of seeing Charles Kuralt, Loonis McGlohon and others perform excerpts from the "North Carolina is My Home" recording live at the Stevens Center in Winston-Salem when I attended the N.C. Broadcasters Association annual convention with a friend many years ago (my other banquet dinner partner was Greg Fishel!) Mr. Kuralt's mellifluous voice was all the more engaging when experienced live and I recall that program so vividly now nearly 20 years ago. It was truly a rare moment to see someone of Mr. Kuralt's stature in person who was so "famous," yet also so comfortable talking about the simple things in life. It's hard to believe he's been gone for 10 years. May he rest in his beloved Chapel Hill.

  • fishnett5977 Jan 25, 2007

    Even as a kid, I envied Mr. Kuralt. On the road, meeting people, seeing the "road less traveled". He found his place among writers and newspaper people. Yes, Mr. Osgood has mighty big shoes to fill, and he does it well. But there was something about Mr.Kuralt - his smile - that made me wish the program was just a little longer...

  • lbwall Jan 25, 2007

    It is interesting that I noticed this blog today. As a general rule, I do not read them and read this one for the first time. This is interesting because today I used Charles Kuralt as an example in my writing class at Riverwood Middle School. The piece I used related how he had failed to find a story after extensive planning and then discovered one that became a national sensation by looking out his bus window and seeing a welcome sign for a returning Viet Nam veteran. His closing sentence on how to get ideas was, "All you really have to do is look out the window."

  • dlweaton Jan 25, 2007

    I now watch Charles Osgood perched on that stool on Sunday mornings, Bill. He had massive shoes to fill and never tried to be another Kuralt.
    When I think about Charles Kuralt, I remember his smile. Wish we had all been allowed to spend more time with him.

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