After cancer battle, Eleanor Mondale dies at age 51

Eleanor Mondale
Eleanor Mondale passes out campaign literature for her father Walter Mondale during the 1984 presidential campaign. She died of brain cancer on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011.
AP Photo

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.

Family spokeswoman Lynda Pedersen said Mondale died Saturday. She had been diagnosed with brain cancer years earlier.

"Joan and I 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," the former vice president said in a statement emailed to friends. "Thank you for all your friendship, you will hear more about plans to celebrate her life soon."

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who worked for Walter Mondale for many years, said Eleanor Mondale lived a very public life.

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"Being a child of a public figure there's privileges but there's also a lot of burdens," she said. "One of the things I always admired about Eleanor was she made her own independent path through life. Her dad was so proud of her and he would always tell me was how much he loved her spirit, her great spirit of independence."

In a statement, Gov. Mark Dayton remembered Mondale as a "beautiful, poised, multi-talented, and accomplished woman."

"She battled her cancer heroically and endured its agonies courageously. I extend my deepest condolences to her family, who loved her so dearly," Dayton said.

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 2002 in her father's last campaign, when the former vice president took the ballot slot of 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.

In 1998, CBS News reported that Mondale was one of four women Monica Lewinsky expressed resentment toward in taped conversations because of attention President Bill Clinton paid to them. (Mondale issued a statement saying her relationship with the president and his wife, Hillary, was "purely a friendship.")

Mondale started as an aspiring actress, with bit parts in TV's "Three's Company" and "Dynasty." She got her start in broadcasting as an entertainment reporter at WCCO-TV in Minneapolis in 1989, but left after only eight months when a Twin Cities magazine was about to publish an article called, "Walter and Joan's Wild Child." The Star Tribune reported that Mondale denied she was forced out.

In the article in Mpls.-St. Paul magazine, Mondale was quoted as saying "I like to get wild. But it's not murder, and I don't do drugs."

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.

Jones said one of the most striking things about Mondale was her sense of humor and passion for life.

"She was a vegetarian her whole life — super-duper healthy," Jones said. "Which is just a shame. But in the end about a month ago, she really wanted fried chicken. ... It's really hard. I'm going to miss her."

Jones said Mondale knew for some time that she was facing death, but showed courage and grace.

In 2005, Mondale was diagnosed with brain cancer after she suffered 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 that time and was able to return to WCCO but eventually had to take disability leave to treat the recurrence.

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.

(MPR reporter Rupa Shenoy contributed to this report.)

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)