MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Eleanor Mondale, the vivacious daughter of former Vice President Walter Mondale who carved out her own reputation as an entertainment reporter, radio show host and gossip magnet, has died at her home in Minnesota. She was 51.
Mondale, who had been diagnosed with brain cancer years earlier, died early Saturday, said family spokeswoman Lynda Pedersen said.
In a statement emailed to friends, the former vice president said he and his wife “must report that our wonderful daughter, Eleanor Mondale Poling, after her long and gutsy battle against cancer, went up to heaven last night to be with her angel.”
Eleanor Mondale had been off the air at WCCO-AM in Minneapolis since March 19, 2009, when she announced that her brain cancer had returned a second time. She had surgery to remove the tumor Aug. 12, 2009, at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and a posting on her CaringBridge website declared the surgery a success.
Mondale, the middle of three children born to Walter and Joan Mondale, stumped for her father in his failed campaign to unseat President Ronald Reagan in 1984. She also made calls in her father’s last campaign in 2002, when the former vice president took the ballot slot of Minnesota’s U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, who died in a plane crash just days before the election.
A striking blonde known on the party circuit when she was younger, Eleanor Mondale also attracted gossip. Her dalliance with the late rock musician Warren Zevon was detailed in “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon,” a posthumous biography published by Zevon’s ex-wife in 2007.
Mondale started as an aspiring actress, with bit parts in television’s “Three’s Company” and “Dynasty.”
She got her start in broadcasting as an entertainment reporter at WCCO-TV in Minneapolis in 1989. She left the station after eight months, when a Twin Cities magazine was about to publish an article called, “Walter and Joan’s Wild Child,” that quoted her as saying “I like to get wild. But it’s not murder, and I don’t do drugs.” Mondale denied she was forced out of the job, The Star Tribune reported.
After stints at Minneapolis radio station WLOL-FM, on cable television at E! Entertainment and ESPN and network TV on CBS’ “This Morning,” she returned to Minnesota in 2006 to co-host a weekday morning show on WCCO-AM with Susie Jones.
“I was terrified of her at first,” Jones said Saturday. “She was so big, but you talked to her for a minute and you realized she was just as regular as you could expect … She was uncanny, she was unpredictable. She sparkled. She was gorgeous inside and out.”
She added later: “I’m going to miss her so much.”
In 2005, Mondale was diagnosed with brain cancer after suffering two seizures during a camping trip. The tumor nearly disappeared after Mondale had chemotherapy and radiation, but her cancer returned in 2008. She underwent surgery and was able to return to WCCO but eventually had to take disability leave to treat the recurrence.
“She would send me texts about how her (cancer) scan was. She had it every six weeks, and she would report how it was and how big it was. She hated that part,” said Jones, who visited Mondale on Thursday to say goodbye.
“She fought very hard. She did not want to die. She had a lot of dignity in the end, and died quietly and beautifully.”
Mondale was married three times: to Chicago Bears offensive lineman Keith Van Horne, to fellow DJ Greg Thunder and to Twin Cities rock musician Chan Poling of The Suburbs.
Mondale and Poling married in 2005, shortly after her cancer was diagnosed, and lived on a farm near Prior Lake in the southern Twin Cities with miniature horses, cats, chickens, dogs and a cockatoo.
Along with her parents and husband, Mondale is survived by two brothers, Ted and William. Funeral arrangements are pending.