WBTV anchor Bob Knowles died Tuesday, three years after he was diagnosed with a rare cancer that flared up again on his honeymoon two months ago. He was 42.
A genuine nice guy in a business where egos can run to the outsize, Knowles was known for his high standard of professionalism on the air and his impish pursuit of mischief when the camera was off.
Knowles joined WBTV in 1995. His helmet of graying hair and zest for investigative stories distinguished him to viewers.
Knowles was born in Clarksburg, W.Va., and grew up in the Bay area of California, a self-admitted smart-aleck kid who got in his fair share of trouble. His mother was a librarian who counseled alcoholic women; his father a banker and a lawyer.
“Both were funny and sarcastic,” Knowles said in a 2002 interview with The Observer. “Mom was bookish, serious. Dad is the life-of-the-party kind of guy.”
Settled early on TV career
Knowles decided he wanted to be a TV reporter at age 15, watching correspondents in the limelight at the Republican National Convention. Ten years later he was standing before a camera, covering labor strife and social problems in West Virginia’s coalfields for WVVA in Bluefield, W.Va.
“I was clueless and completely eager. I loved that I was holding a microphone that had an NBC logo on it and had a camera on me. I thought there was nowhere I could go higher than this,” Knowles recalled.
He went to WCSC in Charleston, S.C., two years later and within weeks was covering the story of the decade: Hurricane Hugo. Knowles found himself in the anchor chair for hours at a stretch, ad-libbing over raw video. The station’s marathon coverage won a respected Peabody award.
Knowles spent six years at the Charleston station, at one point challenging the administration of The Citadel, which maintained that hazing of underclassmen had been eliminated. A cadet had slipped him a video of older cadets harassing underclassmen and he aired it.
It was also there that longtime North Charleston Mayor John Bourne denounced him on camera as a “stupid idiot pretty boy moron,” a burst of derision that overstepped the bounds of Lowcountry manners and played a part in the mayor’s defeat. Charleston pals ribbed Knowles for years with the nickname “pretty boy.”
Came to Charlotte in 1995
WBTV hired Knowles in 1995 to report and to anchor the 5 p.m. newscast. His first big story was the trial of Susan Smith, accused of drowning her two sons in South Carolina.
“I went the first day, was all pumped up,” Knowles recalled. “Went for a run that night, ruptured my Achilles tendon and had to go back to Charlotte for an operation on it. I never got back to that trial.”
Knowles was a popular figure in the WBTV newsroom, where his gigglish laugh was part of the day-to-day sound effects of the office.
In March 2000, Knowles consulted a doctor because of redness around an eye. A tumor the size of a fingertip was found and the eye was removed.
Days before his prosthesis eye was ready, he returned to the anchor chair with an eyepatch. “People called and said, “Oh, it was so inspiring, you’re so courageous,” Knowles recalled. “What they didn’t know is that because of vacation schedules, I had to anchor; they needed a warm body in the chair. That’s just television.”
Doctors explained to Knowles that the type of cancer he had, anterior uveal melanoma, was an unusually aggressive form. It was likely to attack his liver within 10 years, and no effective treatment was known. In October 2001, his liver showed signs of the cancer.
He underwent an experimental treatment at the National Cancer Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health in which his liver was bathed in chemicals designed to erase the cancer cells. Knowles knew it wasn?t a cure, but could buy him time until a cure or treatment was found.
“You don’t know when the recurrence will be,” Knowles said at the time. “You cross that bridge when you come to it. In two to five years there will be some kind of treatment – gene therapy or immune therapy. You want to stick around long enough for the next treatment. And you keep on living your life.”
He underwent a round of radiation treatments in April 2000 when a cancerous spot was detected in his hip and returned to work.
Honeymoon in Hawaii
On March 15 of this year, Knowles married his longtime girlfriend, Emily Patrice, and they went to Hawaii on a honeymoon. He shot a 92 on a picturesque Hawaiian golf course on March 28, his 42nd birthday, the best round of his life.
But Knowles began to experience stomach discomfort on the trip and when he returned to Charlotte, doctors found that the cancer had returned to his liver. There was little that could be done.
He was hospitalized for dehydration in early May but snuck out of his room to visit the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life of Greater Charlotte, where he was honorary chairman. A thunderstorm disrupted the event so Knowles visited colleagues at WBTV and went on camera for the last time with his new wife.
“I don’t feel like I was half-asleep before all this,” Knowles said in the 2002. “If there are such things as old souls and young souls, I think I have a young soul. I always enjoyed life. This just made me pay more attention.”
Knowles is survived by his wife, Emily and two stepdaughters, Carlie, 11, and Tessa, 9.
The family requests that in lieu of flowers, memorials be made to American Cancer Society or Hospice of Charlotte.
Now I didn’t know Bob Knowles personally and I’ve only lived here about 4 years. But the city of Charlotte is short on good news people. (I’m looking at you channel 9) Bob Knowles was a class act on TV. I kind of identified with him because my dad lost his eye to cancer roughly around the same time Bob Knowles did. And it sounds like he was tough like my dad too because he was back on the air wearing an eye patch in what seemed like no time. It seemed to us people in TV land that Bob seemed to have beat it. But just like I said when my dad died, you can beat cancer a thousand times but it only has to beat you once.
My condolences go out to the friends and family of Bob Knowles.