Birnbaum died on Thanksgiving Day at Stony Brook University Medical Center in Stony Brook, N.Y., after having a heart attack while visiting relatives nearby, CBS News said in a statement Saturday. His death had been announced on the network news broadcast Friday. He was 89.
Birnbaum's CBS career won him seven Emmy Awards and took him to places ranging from Vietnam to the small-town America seen in "On the Road with Charles Kuralt."
He and Kuralt first joined forces on the acclaimed 1964 documentary "Christmas in Appalachia," about unemployed miners in Kentucky. Released as President Lyndon Johnson mobilized his war on poverty, the program spurred $70,000 in unsolicited donations for the families it featured.
As a producer for "The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite" and other programs, Birnbaum covered the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War and Watergate in depth.
His warm, candid demeanor made people feel comfortable talking to him, said his daughter Amy, also a CBS News producer.
"He could ask people anything" and forge enduring friendships out of interviews, she said.
Birnbaum joined CBS as a lighting director in 1951 and worked into this decade, producing short documentaries for "Sunday Morning."
"What kept him going was an insatiable curiosity, so it really was a perfect fit to be a news broadcaster," Amy Birnbaum said.
Born in Brooklyn on Oct. 18, 1920, he began learning photography by working at a studio, she said. He served as a U.S. Army Air Corps combat cameraman during World War II and earned a film degree from New York University, CBS News said.
Survivors include another daughter, Deborah Birnbaum-Kocay, and four grandchildren. His wife, Ronnie, died in 2005.
A funeral is scheduled Tuesday in Larchmont, N.Y., where he lived.