He was the shrewd political operative who understood the powerful connection between television and populism, and went on to create a news network so successful many credit him with helping to elect the current president of the United States.
But in the end, a widespread sexual harassment scandal nearly overshadowed his legacy — and led to his removal from the cable news network that was nearly synonymous with the name Roger Ailes.
Ailes, who founded Fox News in 1996, died Thursday morning at age 77 after complications from a fall. He leaves behind his wife, Elizabeth, and son Zachary.
Born into blue collar roots in Ohio, Ailes began his career working for local television stations before working his way up to become executive producer of The Mike Douglas Show. It was there that he made an impression on television skeptic Richard Nixon, who was impressed with the ideas the brassy young producer shared in a spirited exchange and hired him as an advisor for his 1968 presidential campaign. Ailes later went on to advise presidents including Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, who called him a “great talent” Thursday, while acknowledging that he “wasn’t perfect.”
He wasn’t perfect, but Roger Ailes was my friend & I loved him. Not sure I would have been President w/o his great talent, loyal help. RIP.
— George Bush (@GeorgeHWBush) May 18, 2017
Ailes most recently served as an advisor to then-candidate Donald Trump.
“A brilliant broadcaster, Roger 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,” 21st Century Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch said in a statement Thursday. “Roger and I shared a big idea which he executed in a way no one else could have.”
Murdoch’s statements come less than a year after he and his two sons, Lachlan and James, confirmed Ailes’ departure from Fox News last July after at least seven women — led by former Fox News star Gretchen Carlson — came forward to accuse Ailes of sexual harassment.
RELATED VIDEO: Gretchen Carlson Suing Fox News’ Roger Ailes for Sexual Harassment
His removal from the network came just two weeks after Carlson, a former co-host of the popular morning show Fox & Friends, filed a lawsuit claiming Ailes “unlawfully retaliated against Carlson and sabotaged her career because she refused sexual advances and complained about severe and pervasive sexual harassment.”
After Carlson came forward, six more women — four anonymously — spoke to New York magazine and revealed similar claims of sexual harassment by Ailes in incidents that ranged from the late ’60s through 1989. According to New York magazine, the women came forward through Carlson’s attorney.
Ailes denied all charges against him through an outside attorney: “It has become obvious that Ms. Carlson and her lawyer are desperately attempting to litigate this in the press because they have no legal case to argue. The latest allegations, all 30 to 50 years old, are false.”
Nonetheless, Fox News reached a $20 million settlement with Carlson after her claims.
In November, then Fox News superstar Megyn Kelly also bolstered the women’s claims when she detailed her own alleged run-ins with Ailes in her memoir, Settle for More, writing that she kept records of Ailes’ behavior and shared them with investigators during Ailes’ case.
“I would be called into Roger’s office, he would shut the door, and over the next hour or two, he would engage in a kind of cat-and-mouse game with me—veering between obviously inappropriate sexually charged comments (e.g., about the ‘very sexy bras’ I must have and how he’d like to see me in them) and legitimate professional advice,” she wrote.
She also wrote that he made it clear his advances should be kept secret — or else.
“Roger had made sure I knew the stakes, telling me: ‘I don’t like to fight, but when I do, I fight to kill.’ The message could not have been clearer: ‘If you tell anyone, I will destroy you.’ ”
Ailes, already battered by his Fox News ouster and multiple allegations, later responded to Kelly’s allegations in a statement to PEOPLE.
“I categorically deny the allegations Megyn Kelly makes about me. I worked tirelessly to promote and advance her career, as Megyn herself admitted to Charlie Rose. Watch that interview and then decide for yourself,” Ailes said in a statement provided to PEOPLE by his attorney, Susan Estrich. “My attorneys have restricted me from commenting further — so suffice it to say that no good deed goes unpunished.”
Though the particulars of Ailes’ life after his exit from Fox News continue to surface in the hours after his death, Murdoch’s statement added that the news giant was “a great patriot who never ceased fighting for his beliefs.”