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Ex-Fox News chief Ailes, 77, dies after fall

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Photographs by AP/RON EDMONDS

Vice President George H.W. Bush (left) gets some advice from Roger Ailes (right), his media adviser, at the Superdome in New Orleans, before the start of the Republican National Convention in this Aug. 17, 1988, file photo.

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 over accusations of sexual harassment, died Thursday, according to his wife, Elizabeth Ailes. He was 77.

Ailes died after a fall at his Palm Beach, Fla., home on 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 for candidates who included Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and a onetime 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 channel 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 channel "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.

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"He has dramatically and forever changed the political and the media landscape singlehandedly for the better," Hannity tweeted on Thursday.

Murdoch, executive chairman of 21st Century Fox and Fox News Channel, in a statement 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 and I shared a big idea which he executed in a way no one else could have. In addition, Roger was a great patriot who never ceased fighting for his beliefs."

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican from Georgia, recalled Ailes' influence on the nation's politics from the late 1960s to now.

"Roger Ailes was a genius at politics and the news media. His advice to Presidents Nixon and Reagan was historic and helped elect both," Gingrich tweeted. "Without his success at Fox News Trump could never have won."

Others laid the nation's political dysfunction and inability to find common ground at his feet, creating the atmosphere for Trump to succeed.

But as he prepared to celebrate Fox News' 20th anniversary in 2016, both his legacy and job unraveled after allegations by a former anchor that he had forced her out of Fox News after she spurned his sexual advances. The lawsuit filed on 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.

Despite Ailes' staunch denials, Murdoch and his sons, James and Lachlan, determined that Ailes had to go. The announcement was made on July 21.

He was renowned for never giving in, for being ever confrontational with a chip on his shoulder and a blistering outburst at the ready.

Ailes' career would draw on various blends of showmanship, ruthless politics and an unmatched skill for recognizing TV's raw communication power before his opponents did, and harnessing it better.

Born in Warren, Ohio, on May 15, 1940, Roger Eugene Ailes described his working-class upbringing with three words: "God, country, family."

Afflicted with hemophilia, he spent much of his early years housebound and fascinated with television. After graduation from Ohio University, he landed an entry-level position at a Cleveland TV station as a production assistant on what became The Mike Douglas Show.

He left that in 1967 to spend more than a decade as a communications consultant to corporations and Republican candidates.

In 1993, he joined NBC to run its cable business channel, CNBC. He was credited with boosting CNBC's ratings and putting that troubled NBC subsidiary in the black.

Then, in January 1996, Ailes jumped to what was then known as News Corp. to launch Fox News Channel. By 2002, Fox News dominated the ratings among cable news outlets.

Ailes is survived by his third wife, Elizabeth, who had worked for him at CNBC as vice president of programming, and their son, Zachary.

A Section on 05/19/2017

In this Feb. 9, 2015, file photo, Roger Ailes attends a special screening of "Kingsman: The Secret Service" in New York.

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