Merri Dee, the Chicago broadcaster who became nationally known after she survived a kidnapping, has died at the age of 85.
On Wednesday, WLS-TV reported she had died overnight.
Dee was a local icon for her tenure on WGN-TV between 1972 and 1983, later switching to a role as the station’s director of community relations.
However, Americans might best remember Dee for her kidnapping in the early 1970s.
“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,” WLS reported.
“Sandler was killed in the attack and Dee nearly died.”
A man named Samuel Drew was eventually convicted of the attack. Dee became an advocate for victims of violence after her experience.
“I smile, because it’s only because of my faith that I believe that I’m supposed to be here,” Dee said in a 2013 interview.
“I’m supposed to be here. The gentleman who was with me did not live, and here I am.”
As for her activism: “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.”
Merri loved connecting with people anywhere, everywhere — in-person, on-air, often in the airport, & always online. In recent weeks she was full of life – a photo shoot last Thursday followed by dinner at Le Colonial, weekend events… in 👠 @85. RIP 👑#LiveLifeWithPurpose 🙏🏾 pic.twitter.com/EGwjAIPcop
— Merri Dee (@MerriDee1) March 17, 2022
Dee helped get Illinois’ Victims Bill of Rights law enacted; the law would serve as a template for other states.
WGN, the station where she worked for most of her career, remembered her trailblazing spirit in a statement.
“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,” the statement said.
“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.”
Our thoughts and prayers are with Dee’s family and friends.