NEW YORK (AP) – Pierre Salinger, who served as President John F. Kennedy’s press secretary and later had a long career with ABC News, has died, the network said Saturday.

Salinger, 79, died from a heart attack at a hospital in France, the network said. It was not immediately clear when or where in France he died, ABC News said.

Salinger, who also served as press secretary for President Lyndon Johnson, said Kennedy was a “special man” who surrounded himself with advisers who “believed in each other” and in a common mission.

“There was no barrier on the president’s door,” Salinger wrote in McCall’s magazine in 1988. “Any of his dozen principal staffers could see him when they wanted to. They didn’t need permission from a chief of staff to gain access.”

A longtime print journalist, Salinger switched to television reporting when he joined ABC in 1977. In the years following he worked as the network’s Paris bureau chief, chief foreign correspondent and senior editor in London.

He had left the network by 1997, when he became a prominent backer of the theory that TWA Flight 800, which crashed off Long Island in 1996 on a flight to Paris, was accidentally brought down by a Navy missile.

Salinger had said at the time that a government document showed the Navy was testing missiles off the coast of New York, and had been told planes would be flying higher than 21,000 feet. The Navy was unaware that Flight 800 was flying at 13,000 feet because another commercial plane was flying above it, he said.

The National Transportation Safety Board found no evidence of a missile strike. It concluded that Flight 800 was destroyed by a center fuel tank explosion, probably caused by a spark from a short-circuit in the wiring that ignited vapors in the tank.

Born on June 14, 1925, in San Francisco, Pierre Emil George Salinger first worked on the editorial staff of the San Francisco Chronicle from 1942 to 1943. He resigned from the newspaper to enlist in the Navy, where he commanded a sub chaser in the Pacific during World War II. He was honorably discharged with the rank of lieutenant in 1946.

Salinger, who graduated from the University of San Francisco in 1947, returned to the Chronicle after the war before leaving to join Collier’s Magazine as a contributing editor in 1955.

Two years later, he joined Kennedy’s senatorial staff and served as his press officer in the 1960 presidential campaign.

Kennedy, Salinger said, “was not a perfect man. … For all his loftiness of purpose, he did not take himself that seriously. He had no great vision of himself as a political or intellectual giant.”

But Salinger said Kennedy learned from his mistakes, citing private correspondence between Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev that he said showed “two leaders of confrontational powers groping toward understanding.”

After Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, Salinger served under Johnson before being appointed to complete the term of Sen. Clair Engle, D-Calif., who died in office. But Salinger lost his 1964 bid to keep the job to one-time Hollywood song-and-dance man George Murphy.

After his political career, Salinger worked as a correspondent for the French news magazine L’Express, and later for ABC.

Salinger, whose mother was French and who learned that language before English, lived some 19 years in Paris, although later made his home in New York. In 1978, the French awarded him the Chevalier of the Legion, France’s highest civilian honor, for increasing understanding between the two nations.

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