David Horowitz, the News Emmy-winning reporter and longtime consumer advocate who was involved in one of the most infamous live-TV events in Los Angeles history, has died. He was 81. A family spokesman said the Fight Back! host died Thursday in Los Angeles of dementia-related complications.
Horowitz was a reporter for NBC during the Vietnam War and opened the network’s first Saigon bureau. He later was the only newsman to be live on the air in the immediate aftermath of the 1971 Sylmar earthquake. A fixture on KNBC-TV newscasts for nearly 20 years, he moved to rival KCBS in 1993. It was during his stint on the NBC affiliate that a disturbed man pulled a “gun” on Horowitz during a live segment.
With the weapon — which later was revealed to be a BB pistol but looked very real — held at his back, Horowitz was forced to read a rambling manifesto. Horowitz began to engage the man, who was the son of a KNBC contributor and was a guest on the set, but eventually began to read the statement. The control room cut the live feed shortly thereafter but pretended to still be live. The intruder was unaware of that as Horowitz kept reading.
When Horowitz finished reading the manifesto, which ended with the words “There is no way I could harm anyone with this empty BB gun.” The intruder then set his gun on the desk, anchorman John Beard grabbed it and the man was led away. The picture eventually returned. Watch video of the incident, as reported at the top of KNBC’s next news hour, below.
Horowitz went on to advocate against toy guns that looked real.
While Horowitz always will be associated with that on-air incident, it hardly defined his career. His Fight Back! program was widely popular, mixing often droll humor with consumer advocacy. It was syndicated for many years and featured segments including “The Horror File” and “Commercial Challenge,” the latter featuring Horowitz putting TV ads to the test. The show began in 1976 as Consumer Buyline.
Born on June 30, 1937, in the Bronx, Horowitz won 15 News Emmys and countless other awards over a 35-year career. He also had a widely syndicated radio show, penned a newspaper column and authored more than a half-dozen books. His popularity was reflected in his being asked to play himself on such TV shows as ALF and Silver Spoons and was a regular guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He also appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Late Night with David Letterman and several other talk shows. He also was a guest correspondent on NBC’s Today for several years.
He was on the L.A. and national boards of directors for AFTRA during the 2000s and in recent years was CEO of fightback.com, which was run by his Fight Back! Productions.