Tim Russert, Barack Obama

NBC News / Lisa Berg

The floodgates opened just moments after Tom Brokaw took to the air Friday afternoon to inform the TV-watching nation that his longtime friend and NBC colleague Tim Russert had died suddenly at the age of 58.

Out poured an endless number of heartfelt, albeit stunned, tributes from fellow journalists, network executives and, of course, the politicians whom Russert made it his business to fire the tough questions at—all of whom he could also count as friends. (Well, if they weren't all his friends, at the very least he had their deepest respect.)

Here's a sampling:

Barack Obama: "I’ve known Tim Russert since I first spoke at the convention in 2004. He’s somebody who, over time, I came to consider not only a journalist but a friend. There wasn’t a better interviewer in TV, not a more thoughtful analyst of our politics, and he was also one of the finest men I knew."

John McCain: "I am very saddened by Tim Russert's sudden death. Cindy and I extend our thoughts and prayers to the Russert family as they cope with this shocking loss and remember the life and legacy of a loving father, husband and the preeminent political journalist of his generation."

Bill and Hillary Clinton: "We were stunned and deeply saddened to hear of the passing today of Tim Russert...Always true to his proud Buffalo roots, Tim had a love of public service and a dedication to journalism that rightfully earned him the respect and admiration of not only his colleagues but also those of us who had the privilege to go toe to toe with him."

George W. Bush: "Laura and I are deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Tim Russert. Those of us who knew and worked with Tim, his many friends, and the millions of Americans who loyally followed his career on the air will all miss him. As the longest-serving host of the longest-running program in the history of television, he was an institution in both news and politics for more than two decades."

Arnold Schwarzenegger: "Tim was an American icon in the world of political journalism who could relate to everybody. His insightful commentary and tough but fair interviews helped millions of Americans better understand our political system...But Tim was not only one of the top journalists of his generation; he was a close friend, a warm and generous person and a wonderful family man."

Maria Shriver: "Tim Russert was one of my closest friends and he was like a brother to me. He was not only a professional confidant but a personal one. He was always the first person to call me whenever anything happened with my family. And he always called me just to check in and see how I was doing and to encourage me."

Diane Sawyer: "No one could see Tim in a room and not smile. He brought so much joy and curiosity and sheer vitality to all our lives. As a journalist, he would set out like a great explorer. You couldn't wait to see what he discovered every day in the new world. He was a defining American newsman."

Katie Couric: "Tim was a big teddy bear of a guy, but he was also a pit bull of an interviewer. He always held people's feet to the fire, often using their past words with great effect to reveal flip-flops or hypocrisy."

Dan Rather: "Tim had become an important part of our political process. He will be especially missed in this historic presidential election year. Tim Russert was a beacon of quality journalism. At a time when quality journalism is in increasingly short supply, Tim Russert was a leader for what is best in American journalism. He was tough but fair, pulled no punches, played no favorites. As an interviewer, he had few, if any, peers."

Walter Cronkite: "Tim Russert was a giant in our field—a standard-bearer of journalistic integrity and ethics. His masterful interviews and round-table discussions are legendary."

Here's a clip of Russert on the other side of the table for a change, discussing his most recent book, Wisdom of Our Fathers, on The Daily Show:

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