Allison Payne, who anchored newscasts on WGN-Channel 9 from 1990 to 2011, died September 1 in her hometown of Detroit, the Nexstar Media station reported Friday. She was 57.
No cause of death was reported for Payne, who battled addictions and other health issues during her later years in Chicago.
“Allison Payne was a one-of-a-kind talent who quickly became one of Chicago’s Very Own,” said Paul Rennie, vice president and general manager of WGN. “We are grateful for the many contributions she made to WGN-TV and to Chicago. Talented and much admired, she will be greatly missed.”
A native of Richmond, Virginia, Payne grew up in Detroit and graduated from the University of Detroit and Bowling Green State University. She began as an intern and reporter at WNWO, the ABC affiliate in Toledo, Ohio. In 1988 she was hired as news anchor at WNEM, the NBC affiliate in Saginaw, Michigan.
Her big break came two years later when she was discovered by WGN news director Paul Davis and she moved to Chicago to replace Pat Harvey alongside Rick Rosenthal on the 9 p.m. Monday-through-Friday newscast. Payne later co-anchored with Steve Sanders and Mark Suppelsa.
“Allison was young, vibrant, sharp, articulate. She was amazing,” recalled WGN chief meteorologist Tom Skilling. “You looked at Allison and said here is a young journalist who has the world before her. One could only speculate where her incredible career was going to go.”
A nine-time Chicago Emmy Award winner, Payne served as a mentor to students and established a foundation for those looking to enter journalism, according to the station.
In 2006 Payne appeared as “critic for a day” on WTTW-Channel 11’s “Chicago Tonight,” where she was assigned to review “The Devil Wears Prada.” Payne admitted she walked out in the middle of the movie because she was offended by its “emphasis on appearance.”
At the end of her review, she handed “Chicago Tonight” correspondent Elizabeth Brackett a check as a donation to the public television station. “We appreciated the contribution — though I was a little startled to receive it on the air,” Brackett later recalled.
In 2008 Payne suffered a series of mini-strokes and resulting depression that kept her off the air for much of that year. Payne also acknowledged a 20-year struggle with alcohol addiction.
After WGN bought out her contract in 2011, Payne left to form her own production company and work briefly as a press secretary for political campaigns.