Tony Snow, the former White House press secretary and conservative pundit who bedeviled the press corps and charmed millions as a FOX News television and radio host, died after a long bout with cancer. He was 53.
A syndicated columnist, editor, TV anchor, radio show host and musician, Snow worked in nearly every medium in a career that spanned more than 30 years.
“Laura and I are deeply saddened by the death of our dear friend Tony Snow,” President Bush said in a statement. “The Snow family has lost a beloved husband and father. And America has lost a devoted public servant and a man of character.”
Snow died at 2 a.m. Saturday at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C.
Snow joined FOX in 1996 as the original anchor of “FOX News Sunday” and hosted “Weekend Live” and a radio program, “The Tony Snow Show,” before departing in 2006.
“It’s a tremendous loss for us who knew him, but it’s also a loss for the country,” Roger Ailes, chairman of FOX News, said Saturday morning about Snow, calling him a “renaissance man.”
As a TV pundit and commentator for FOX News, Snow often was critical of Bush before he became the president’s third press secretary, following Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan. He was an instant study in the job, mastering the position — and the White House press corps — with apparent ease.
“One of the reasons I took this job is not only to work with the president, but, believe it or not, to work with all of you,” Snow told reporters when he stepped into the post in 2006.
During a tenure marked by friendly jousting with journalists, Snow often danced around the press corps, occasionally correcting their grammar and speech even as he responded to their questions.
“Tony did his job with more flair than almost any press secretary before him,” said William McGurn, Bush’s former chief speechwriter. “He loved the give-and-take. But that was possible only because Tony was a man of substance who had real beliefs and principles that he was more than able to defend.”
As he announced Snow as his new press secretary in May 2006, Bush praised him as “a man of courage [and] a man of integrity.” Snow presided over some of the toughest fights of Bush’s presidency, defending the administration during the Iraq war and the CIA leak investigation.
Snow’s tenure at the White House lasted 17 months and was interrupted by his second bout with cancer.
“The White House has lost a great friend and a great colleague,” said Bush’s current press secretary and Snow’s former deputy, Dana Perino. “We all loved watching him at the podium, but most of all we learned how to love our families and treat each other.”
• FOX Facts: Tony Snow’s Battle With Cancer
Snow had his colon removed and underwent six months of chemotherapy after he was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2005. In 2007 he announced his cancer had recurred and spread to his liver, and he had a cancerous growth removed from his abdominal area.
He resigned from the White House six months later, in September 2007, citing not his health but a need to earn more than the $168,000 a year he was paid in the government post. He was replaced by Perino.
After taking time off to recuperate, Snow joined CNN as a political commentator early this year.
At the White House, Snow brought partisan zeal and the skills of a seasoned performer to the task of explaining and defending the president’s policies. During daily briefings he challenged reporters, scolded them and questioned their motives as if he were starring in a TV show broadcast live from the West Wing.
Critics suggested Snow was turning the traditionally informational daily briefing into a personality-driven media event short on facts and long on confrontation. He was the first press secretary, by his own accounting, to travel the country raising money for Republican candidates.
As a commentator, he had not always been on the president’s side. He once called Bush “something of an embarrassment” in conservative circles and criticized what he called Bush’s “lackluster” domestic policy.
A sometime fill-in host for Rush Limbaugh, Snow said he loved the intimacy of his radio audience.
Robert Anthony Snow was born June 1, 1955, in Berea, Ky., the son of a teacher and nurse. He graduated from Davidson College in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, and he taught briefly in Kenya before embarking on his journalism career.
Because of his love for writing, Snow took a job as an editorial writer for the Greensboro Record in North Carolina and went on to run the editorial pages at the Newport News (Virginia) Daily Press, Detroit News and Washington Times. He became a nationally syndicated columnist, and in 1991 he became director of speechwriting for President George H.W. Bush.
“He served people, and we can learn from that. He was kind, and we can learn from that. He was just a good person,” the senior Bush told FOX News.
Snow played six instruments — saxophone, trombone, flute, piccolo, accordion and guitar — and was in a D.C. cover band called Beats Workin’. He also was a film buff.
“He was a great musician,” Ailes said. “And he loved movies.”
More than anything, said Snow’s colleagues, he was a joy to work with.
“He was a lot of fun,” his former FOX News producer Griff Jenkins said. “This is a loss of a family member.”
Senior FOX News Washington correspondent Jim Angle called Snow a “gentleman.”
Snow is survived by his wife, Jill Ellen Walker, whom he married in 1987; their son, Robbie; and daughters, Kendall and Kristi.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.