Chicago broadcast TV legend Merri Dee, who survived kidnapping, shooting in 1971, dead at 85

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Legendary Chicago broadcaster Merri Dee has died at age 85. Her family says she passed away peacefully in her sleep overnight.

The local television star worked on-air for WGN-TV in the 70s and 80s and later served as the station's director of community relations.

In 1971, Dee and a guest on her show were kidnapped while sitting in her car outside WSNS-TV studios. Dee was made to drive to a remote location and both she and her guest, amateur psychic Alan Sandler, were both shot in the back of the head.

Sandler was killed in the attack and Dee nearly died. Dee recounted how she survived the terrifying ordeal during an appearance on "Windy City Live" in 2013.

WATCH | Merri Dee recounts her near-death experience
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During a 2013 appearance on "Windy City Live," Merri Dee shares how she fought for her life after she was kidnapped and shot outside a Chicago TV studio in 1971.



"I smile, because it's only because of my faith that I believe that I'm supposed to be here," Dee said. "I'm supposed to be here. The gentleman who was with me did not live, and here I am."

Samuel Drew was later convicted in the attack. Her near-death experience inspired her to become a strong voice and advocate for victims of gun violence.

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"One person really can make a difference. I was angry when he [Drew] received a 120-year sentence. After 12 years he was getting out of jail," Dee said. "I thought, well, I'm just not going to stand for this."

Dee lobbied state and city politicians and assisted in the passage of Illinois' first Victims Bill of Rights law, legislation that has served as a model for other states.

"I really stand here at this anchor desk because I stand on her shoulders," ABC7 anchor Cheryl Burton said. "For every little Black girl that wanted to be Merri Dee, she gave us that inspiration, that hope, and the empowerment that anything is possible when you saw her on television."



Her website, merridee.com, will be updated with funeral arrangements and memorial service information in the coming days.

Family statement:
With great sadness,our family announces the loss of our beloved matriarch,
the brightest light in our lives, Merri Dee, who died peacefully in her sleep at home. As you can imagine our family is simply heartbroken and ask for privacy at this time.


Statement from WGN-TV

Chicago's Very Own, Merri Dee, was a one-of-a-kind legend. From WGN staff announcer to hosting parade telecasts, telethons and even the Illinois Lottery drawings, she was synonymous with WGN-TV. She was groundbreaking in the broadcasting field and an inspiration to several generations of young women. Among her greatest legacies as Director of Community Relations, she spoke at thousands of events and helped raise over $30 million dollars for WGN-TV Children's Charities, benefitting various organizations throughout Chicagoland. Merri Dee was a pioneer who will be greatly missed.

Statement from Mayor Lori Lightfoot:
Amy and I are deeply saddened to learn of Merri Dee's passing.
Mrs. Dee was a homegrown, broadcasting legend whose time as an anchor and radio and talk show host made her a beloved, local celebrity. In addition to her television and radio work, she also made a huge impact on communities across our city and state through a number of philanthropic pursuits that reflected her passion for protecting vulnerable individuals such as children in need of adoptive homes. Mrs. Dee has truly made a positive and indelible mark on our city and inspired countless others to follow in her footsteps. We offer our deepest condolences to her loved ones during this difficult time.
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