NEW YORK – Roger Ailes, the communications maestro who transformed television news and America's political conversation by creating and ruling Fox News Channel for two decades before being ousted last year for alleged sexual harassment, died Thursday, according to his wife, Elizabeth Ailes.
He was 77.
Ailes died after a fall at his Palm Beach, Florida, home May 10 caused bleeding on the brain, the Palm Beach County medical examiner's office said.
Ailes fell in his bathroom, hit his head and was bleeding profusely. He was taken to a hospital by attending paramedics, the Palm Beach Police Department said.
A former GOP operative to candidates including Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and a one-time adviser to President Donald Trump, Ailes displayed a mastery of modern messaging early in his career.
Then he changed the face of 24-hour news when, in 1996, he accepted a challenge from media titan Rupert Murdoch to build a news network from scratch to compete with CNN and other TV outlets they deemed left-leaning.
That October, Ailes flipped the switch on Fox News Channel, which within a few years became the audience leader in cable news.
Ailes branded the network “Fair and Balanced” and declared he had left the political world behind, but conservative viewers found a home and lifted prime-time commentators Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity to the top of the news ratings.
“He has dramatically and forever changed the political and the media landscape singlehandedly for the better,” Hannity tweeted Thursday.
In a statement, Rupert Murdoch, Fox News and 21st Century Fox executive chairman, called Ailes “a brilliant broadcaster (who) played a huge role in shaping America's media over the last thirty years.”
“He will be remembered by the many people on both sides of the camera that he discovered, nurtured and promoted,” Murdoch said. “Roger was a great patriot who never ceased fighting for his beliefs.”
Others laid the nation's political dysfunction and inability to find common ground at his feet, creating the atmosphere for Trump to succeed.
By mid-2016, Ailes still ruled supreme as he prepared to celebrate Fox News's 20th anniversary.
But in little more than two weeks, both his legacy and job unraveled following allegations by a former anchor that he had forced her out of Fox News after she spurned his sexual advances.
The lawsuit filed July 6 by Gretchen Carlson quickly triggered accounts from more than 20 women with similar stories of alleged harassment by Ailes either against themselves or someone they knew.
Reportedly, a key witness was Megyn Kelly, the network's superstar personality, whose voice was conspicuously missing in the chorus of women and men at Fox News who spoke up on behalf of Ailes.
Their defense did little to staunch the widening scandal.
Despite Ailes' staunch denials, 21st Century Fox corporate head Rupert Murdoch and his sons, James and Lachlan, determined that Ailes had to go.
The announcement was made July 21.