Longtime PBS anchor Jim Lehrer dies at 85

What you need to know: Jim Lehrer

Jim Lehrer, the debate moderator and journalist who co-founded “PBS NewsHour” and spent the next 36 years anchoring the show has died, PBS announced Thursday. He was 85.

PBS officials said Lehrer died “peacefully in his sleep at his home” Thursday in Washington, according to the network and The New York Times.

“With heavy hearts we report the death of PBS NewsHour co-founder Jim Lehrer at age 85,” employees of news show wrote Thursday afternoon in a tweet. “A giant in journalism, his tenacity and dedication to simply delivering the news remain the core of our work.”

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Lehrer retired in 2011, 36 years after he and his friend Robert MacNeil co-founded “PBS NewsHour," according to CNN. The show, then called “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” was the only hour-long national news broadcast to air nightly in the country at the time of its debut.

“I’m heartbroken at the loss of someone who was central to my professional life, a mentor to me and someone whose friendship I’ve cherished for decades,” Judy Woodruff, who in 2013 succeeded Lehrer on the anchor desk at PBS NewsHour,” said in a statement. “I’ve looked up to him as the standard for fair, probing and thoughtful journalism and I know countless others who feel the same way.”

Tributes poured in from colleagues and watchers alike, including from Fox News’ Bret Baier, who called Lehrer “an inspiration to a whole generation of political journalists— including this one." Dan Rather said “few approached their work with more equanimity and integrity than Jim Lehrer.” And Jake Tapper of CNN called Lehrer “a wonderful man and a superb journalist.”

Lehrer was best known for his anchoring work, but he also moderated a dozen presidential debates and wrote several novels four plays and three memoirs, according to The New York Times. Prior to joining PBS, Lehrer worked as a reporter for Dallas public television station KERO, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Times-Herald and the National Public Affairs Center for Television.

Lehrer was born May 19, 1934. He attended Victoria College in Texas before studying journalism at the University of Missouri. He served for three years as an infantry officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, according to PBS.

He is survived by his wife of nearly 60 years, Kate Staples; his daughters Jamie, Lucy and Amanda and six grandchildren.

FILE PHOTO: PBS's Jim Lehrer has died at the age of 85.
FILE PHOTO: PBS's Jim Lehrer has died at the age of 85. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The Associated Press contributed to this report.