Editor's note: Leslie Tripp is an assignment editor for the CNN National Desk.
Many people in their mid-30s and younger heard about the death of actor Ernest Borgnine and it didn't mean much. But I felt a particular sadness because I have interviewed Borgnine, and I actually made him cry.
I was working at KFDA in Amarillo, Texas, in the late 1990s, and Borgnine was in the area to film a movie. When we heard about the death of Frank Sinatra it was a natural move to get Borgnine's reaction. I was young and just starting out in the news business and really thought I knew everything. So when my news director asked me to go interview Borgnine about Sinatra’s death, I balked.
“Really? This guy is old and hasn’t done any significant films or TV shows in years,” I told the news director. But it was my job to go, and I went, and now all these years later I’m glad I did.
I can’t even remember how we got onto the movie set, except that it was a rural county in the Texas Panhandle, and I had a local news business card to flash.
Borgnine was a big man, and I remember expecting a small, old man…not an imposing-looking giant. But as imposing as his stature and build were, his smile was even bigger and instantly put me at ease. We sat in the hot West Texas sun and had a nice long chat.
We of course talked about the movie he was working on, and then it was time for me to ask him about his dear friend Sinatra.
I was not expecting his reaction. The interview went well for a few minutes and then came the tears. And I’m not talking little misty-eyed tears that you wipe away; this big giant of a man who looked so imposing was openly sobbing at the loss of an American icon, who had been one of his closest peers.
I was definitely caught off guard. I just stood there awkwardly for several minutes and didn’t even have a tissue to offer. Luckily someone in the crew did and shortly after Borgnine regained his composure.
It ended up being a very good day, and I learned a lot from the gentle giant named Ernest Borgnine. I have since discarded almost all of my old tapes from my early days in news, but that is one that I still have and will not part with.
So when I heard my colleagues here at CNN report the death of this big man with the big heart and big smile, I was truly saddened.