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tv   60 Minutes  CBS  August 23, 2015 7:00pm-8:02pm EDT

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and ford >> pelley: about 2:00 in the morning, august 21, 2013. hundreds in the suburbs of damascus were awakened by the panic of their last breath stuck in their throats. they were experiencing the horror of a sarin gas attack. no one has been held responsible. >> nobody knew what was going on. people were just praying for god to have mercy on them. >> it's time for a change! republicans and democrats alike. >> stahl: retiring republican senator tom coburn had harsh parting words for his congressional colleagues. >> i see them make decisions every day that benefit their
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career rather than the country. and that's what is so sickening about washington. >> stahl: coburn has been called the "godfather of the tea party," doesn't believe in global warming, and is a staunch conservative on government spending. so what does he think about president obama? >> i just love him as a man. i think he's a neat man. i'm proud of our country that we elected barack obama. >> whitaker: she performs to sellout crowds on grand stages across the country. >> something happens when you feel that energy and excitement from the audience, and it's just this really magical thing that happens in those moments. >> whitaker: but it was this commercial for the sports wear company under armour that introduced her to a new audience. six-and-a-half million people saw live ballet last year. almost eight million viewed this commercial online. >> kroft: i'm steve kroft. >> stahl: i'm lesley stahl.
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>> safer: i'm morley safer. >> whitaker: i'm bill whitaker. >> pelley: i'm scott pelley. those stories tonight on "60 minutes." >> glor: good evening. stock markets in saudi arabia and dubai slipped 7% today as oil slipped further. britain and iran stored diplomatic ties agreeing to work on trade and investments. and new hampshire has raised $28,000 auctioning off two moose hunting permits. i'm jeff glor, cbs news.
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>> pelley: if you have young children watching right now, usually that's a good thing, but this story is not for them. the pictures you are about to see are agonizing. this will be hard to watch, but it should be seen. generally, mankind does not outlaw weapons. anything that a military can think of is in the arsenals of the world. there are a few exceptions, and
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one of them is for a weapon so hideous that virtually every country has banned, not only its use, but the mere possession of it. the weapon is sarin. it's nerve gas. and on august 21, 2013, it was unleashed on syrian civilians in what the u.n. secretary general calls "a crime against humanity." two years later, no one has been held responsible. for several months, we gathered evidence, and when we first broadcast this story in april, much of what we found had never been public before. about 2:00 in the morning, august 21, 2013, hundreds in the suburbs of damascus were awakened by the panic of their last breath stuck in their throats. neighbors carried neighbors to makeshift clinics.
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victims were stripped and washed. everything was tried, but nothing could be done. there was no forcing life into lungs that could not accept it. their nerves, electrified by sarin, fired non-stop. muscles seized until death released them. >> kassem eid: nobody knew what was going on. people were just praying for god to have mercy on them. sir, i've seen things you won't even dream about in your worst nightmares. i'm on a tour inside the streets of moadamiyah. >> pelley: kassem eid has recorded his nightmares in moadamiyah. four years ago, the suburb rebelled against the
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dictatorship of bashar al-assad. eid has shown the world the shelling and years of hunger imposed by an army blockade. >> eid: that was a close one. >> pelley: he was there in august when strange rockets pummeled the night. >> eid: and when they crashed, they didn't make the same, old- fashioned bombing sound. but it was, in a way, silent. >> pelley: the rockets hit the ground, but it didn't sound to you like they were exploding. >> eid: yes. they were... didn't sound like it was... they were exploding. with the closest rocket hit almost 100 meters away from the place that i was staying in. >> pelley: 300 feet or so. >> eid: yes. and within seconds... it just took seconds before i lost my ability to breathe. i felt like my chest was set on fire. my eyes were burning like hell. i wasn't able even to scream or
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to do anything, so i started to beat my chest really hard. >> pelley: beat your chest? >> eid: yes. trying to take... take a breath. just to be able to take a single breath. it was so painful. it felt like somebody was tearing up my chest with a knife made of fire. >> pelley: over the years, artillery had sheared the tops off of the neighborhoods, so women and children slept in basements. sarin is heavier than air. it slipped past doors and crept down stairwells. death was arbitrary-- it seemed that, for every corpse, there was a witness who just missed a lethal dose. a neighbor appeared at kassem eid's door. >> eid: and she had two of her kids, suffocating and vomiting this weird white stuff out of their mouths. she was begging us to help her to get her children to the field hospital.
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this field hospital is just a basement in a building with almost zero medical equipments. >> pelley: it's not a real hospital. >> eid: it's not a real hospital. it felt like judgment day for me. >> pelley: sarin has no color, no odor. often, the dead drop never knowing what happened. but their eyes bear witness. the seizures draw the pupils tight, and the world goes dark which might be a blessing. this father had willed his daughters through months of hunger. now, he's shouting, "do you know what they saidor befe going to sleep? i gave her food. she said, "dad, it's not my turn to eat, it's my sister's." he goes on, "what should we do good people? what are we to do? look at that face. look at that face."
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you were being exterminated. >> eid: i know. i cannot imagine how anybody can do this to people, to other people. dying this way is one of the most ugliest ways of death people ever knew through history. >> pelley: the history of sarin begins in the 1930s. it was a nazi weapons program. the name is an acronym of the scientists' last names. in 1997, sarin and other chemical weapons were outlawed and the world set up the organization for the prohibition of chemical weapons. scott cairns is a chemist and lead inspector for that organization. a person who is exposed to sarin, what do they experience? >> scott cairns: a number of physical symptoms and some psychological effects.
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you get this overwhelming sense of doom and hopelessness and fear. >> pelley: and what causes death? >> cairns: typically, it's the paralysis of the respiratory system, eventually. your muscles don't work, you lose the oxygen to your brain. it just puts you into overload. it's a very horrible way to die. >> pelley: as fate would have it, scott cairns would see evidence of that for himself. he was in damascus with a team the day of the assault. they'd arrived days before to investigate other alleged chemical attacks. >> cairns: i'd just gotten up, and what i thought i'd heard was another regular bombardment of conventional weapons to the east of damascus. >> pelley: he had heard the rockets en route to the largest sarin massacre of civilians since saddam hussein in iraq in 1988. cairns demanded access.
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they raced in in u.n. trucks and the shooting started. what happened? >> cairns: the gunman was firing on the first two vehicles. >> pelley: so, the vehicles were hit? >> cairns: oh, the vehicles were hit. the first vehicle was disabled. >> pelley: did you find out who was shooting at you? >> cairns: no. >> pelley: why do you think they were shooting at you? >> cairns: they were shooting at us just to tell us... send us a message. if they wanted to kill us, they would've killed us. at no point was there any interest in the turning around and going back to the hotel. >> pelley: finding and documenting the truth was worth risking your life for. >> cairns: yes. >> pelley: how'd you go about your work? >> cairns: very quickly. we didn't have a lot of time. we had places where we could set up our interview stations. we could take samples, biomedical samples from people-- blood, urine, hair.
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>> pelley: they also collected cell phone videos and swabbed samples from mangled rockets. days later, in a community called zamalka, they discovered the rockets were much larger and had delivered even more gas. never before had investigators arrived at a chemical crime scene so soon. >> cairns: well over 90% of the samples that we took tested positive for sarin. >> pelley: what witness sticks in your mind as the person you cannot forget? >> cairns: there are several. a child of seven or eight who lost most of his family. a woman of... in her early 30s who lost her entire family, her husband and all her kids. a man that, out of his 20 family members, he was the only one left alive. so, interviewing these people was very difficult.
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>> pelley: our work to find witnesses took us out into the desert. the refugees we found were on the run from the regime of bashar al-assad. millions of syrians have fled the country into desolate refugee camps like this one, and over a period of weeks, we have been able to find more survivors of the nerve gas attack. these people asked us to not show you their faces or tell you their names because they have family back in syria, and they are quite certain the dictatorship would hunt them down. even at that, they told us some risks have to be taken to tell this story. this man told us, "assad gassed people. he killed people. he's killing women. what he did could not be done by any other human being. he killed everything, even the trees." he and his son, who is a nurse
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told us that they were among those who had given first aid. how many patients did you treat that day? he told us, "people were being brought in on ambulances motorcycles, pickup trucks, a tractor, and a semi. there were people rushing in with their kids, crying out, 'help him, help him. he's about to die.' i didn't have a chance to count." this woman was three months pregnant with her son when the gas entered her lungs. she came to in an aid station. her brother was carried in next. "he was calling my name before he died," she said. "'take care of your mother,' he told me." how did you survive? "i lived by god's will. but i wished i had died." her son was born six months later.
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she believes he has epilepsy. "he loses consciousness, he starts shaking, his mouth foams. the same symptoms i had." how often does he have these seizures? she told us, "approximately three a day." the rockets were types used by the syrian army, and they were launched from land held by the dictatorship. u.s. intelligence believes the syrian army used sarin in frustration after years of shelling and hunger failed to break the rebels. with the threat of air strikes president obama forced assad to give up his chemical arsenal. but if assad was the trigger man, there is one thing odd about the timing. why would anyone launch the
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largest chemical weapons attack in decades while chemical weapons inspectors are in town? >> cairns: i ask myself that a lot. i don't know. >> pelley: we don't know why. >> cairns: no. i don't think we'll ever truly know. >> pelley: we also don't know, precisely, how many died, but have a look around the makeshift morgues. so many were lost, all at once that the living had to make room for the dead. u.s. intelligence estimates 1,429 civilians were killed; 426 of them children. of course, syria is dying, too. prosecution of this atrocity will have to wait for whatever civilization emerges from the ruin. but the dead will be waiting because a crime buried without justice is never laid to rest.
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>> stahl: tom coburn, the conservative republican senator from oklahoma, announced last year that he has prostate cancer and would be ending his term two years early. this is an interesting man. he's an obstetrician who has delivered over 4,000 babies. called the "godfather of the tea party," he has been a powerful and effective force against government spending. he opposes gay marriage, he's against abortion rights, and says global warming doesn't exist. and yet, he became one of barack obama's closest friends in congress. it may be washington's most unlikely friendship, but it's a
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lesson that political opposites can work together in highly partisan and dysfunctional times. in this, coburn's farewell interview before he left the senate last december, he said some things you may never have heard a conservative republican say about this president of the united states. >> tom coburn: my relationship with barack obama isn't based on my political philosophy or his. >> stahl: what's it based on? >> coburn: it's based on the fact that i think he's a genuinely very smart, nice guy. i just love him as a man. i think he's a neat man. you don't have to be the same to be friends. matter of fact, the more interesting friendships are the ones that are divergent. >> stahl: that tom coburn is close to barack obama is seen as a betrayal by many of his fellow republicans, but he doesn't care. >> coburn: i'm proud of our country that we elected barack obama. i mean, it says something about us nationally. you know, it's kind of like crowning your checker when you get to the end of the checker board. here's another thing that says
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america's special-- barack obama, president of the united states. >> stahl: the friendship began in 2005 as freshmen senators coburn, the conservative obstetrician from muskogee oklahoma, and obama, the liberal state senator from chicago. they often teamed up to pass important pieces of legislation. >> coburn: it's my pleasure to introduce to you a good friend of mine, since we went through orientation together, senator barack obama. >> barack obama: thank you, tom. >> stahl: in 2013, "time" magazine named coburn one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and it was president obama who wrote the tribute. and last year, after learning that coburn had cancer, the president spoke about him at a prayer breakfast. >> obama: ...a great friend of mine who i came into the senate with, senator tom coburn. tom is going through some tough times right now, but i love him dearly, even though we're from different parties. >> stahl: it's interesting that you're friends with the
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president because, i guess people think he doesn't have any friends in the senate. >> coburn: the president hasn't done a great job of reaching out. it's not his personality style. i mean, you know, he's not well suited to be a back slapper, "sit down and let me tell you this dirty story before we get down to business." i mean, he's not one of those kinds of guys. he's a serious guy. >> stahl: and so is coburn. he's also a maverick who is always making someone angry. >> coburn: am i frustrating the senators from new mexico? you bet! >> stahl: he has called his colleagues cowards, called former majority leader harry reid "a complete a-hole," for which he would later apologize and says anybody off the street could do a better job than the senators there now. >> coburn: i see them make decisions every day that benefit their career, rather than the country. and that's what's so sic about washington. to me, it's about our future; it's not about the politicians. and we've switched things around where now it's about the
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politicians and not the future of the country. >> stahl: it seems the public agrees with him-- one poll showed that americans have a higher opinion of witches, the i.r.s., and hemorrhoids than congress. congress's approval rating in the last poll i saw-- 7%. >> coburn: who are the 7% of the people who actually think we do a great job? >> stahl: you have said, "let's get rid of them all and start all over again." >> coburn: if you wanted to fix things, that's what i would do. >> stahl: get rid of everybody? >> coburn: i mean, if i was king tomorrow, that's what i'd do. >> stahl: and if he were king, he would take a meat ax to the federal budget. he has made cutting out fat in government programs his holy grail. >> coburn: actually, i think i'll just tear it up. it's time we quit borrowing money against the future of our kids. >> stahl: his power comes not from creating legislation, but from killing it with procedural roadblocks that have gummed up the works. >> stephen spaulding: i think he is one of the number one champions of gridlock in the united states senate.
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>> stahl: stephen spaulding, who focuses on the senate for the political watchdog organization common cause, says senators often have to go to coburn to get their bills released, and that has given him significant power. >> spaulding: he has found every loophole in the senate rulebook that he can to grind things to an absolute halt. >> stahl: he says he does it so the government won't grow out of control? >> spaulding: there's a question there as to whether he has been substituting his judgment for that of the senate, and i think that's what has led to absolute political paralysis in washington. >> stahl: what coburn does is put a "hold" on the legislation. a hold stops a bill in its tracks and paralyzes the senate. that's how he got his nickname "dr. no." how many holds have you put on? >> coburn: thousands. >> stahl: thousands? >> coburn: yeah. >> stahl: let me ask you about some of the holds that we've come up with. extending unemployment insurance. >> coburn: uh-huh.
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>> stahl: veterans' benefits. you even held up a bill called the "paralysis bill" to help people in wheelchairs. 13 veterans' groups attacked you when you wouldn't agree on the veterans' benefits. >> coburn: yeah. >> stahl: you're the reason the place has shutdown! >> coburn: no, it isn't. >> stahl: well, all these holds, you're one of the reasons. >> coburn: the holds, there's no debate on those, anyhow. nobody ever knows about them. >> stahl: well, they would pass if you didn't put the holds on them. >> coburn: that's right. and you'd grow the government and our problems would be worse, not better. >> stahl: the thing is, coburn is proud of his contrariness and his refusal to go along. he got his values growing up in muskogee, oklahoma, where he says he had a happy childhood. it's a church-going, middle- america kind of town where he was taught to be independent and not waste money. he still lives there on a 40- acre farm. >> coburn: i got three stalls out there for horses and it's got a big hay loft in it. >> stahl: he and his wife carolyn, a former miss oklahoma,
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raised their three daughters here, one a nationally known opera singer. >> carolyn coburn: we've known each other since the first grade. by third grade, i was on his list of girlfriends. >> stahl: how many did you have? >> carolyn coburn: three! i was the last. >> coburn: she's telling the story. >> carolyn coburn: i remember the list-- dun, sara, ditten. >> stahl: the biggest influence on tom coburn's life was his father. after graduating college, he went to work for his dad in the family optical business. you told me in washington that your father was an alcoholic. >> coburn: uh-huh. >> stahl: now, that can't be easy when you say that you had a happy childhood. >> coburn: well, it doesn't take away from the great things that my dad did. >> stahl: did it change you... did it... is it kind of a key to you? >> coburn: mmm, i don't know. >> stahl: but why is it welling up like this?
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>> coburn: i think clinically, if i were to analyze it, probably didn't do good grieving. >> carolyn coburn: we could spend about a week grieving over all the things we've missed grieving over. that'll be a fun week. >> stahl: at the age of 31 coburn left his father's business and went to medical school. after practicing as an obstetrician for 11 years... >> carolyn coburn: one day, he came home and said, "i'm going to run for congress." i said, "congress of what?" >> stahl: do you know anything about politics at this point in your life? >> coburn: no. >> stahl: at their favorite barbecue restaurant in town, he told us being a doctor didn't hurt in his first campaign in 1994 for the house of representatives. >> coburn: you deliver 2,000 babies or better... 3,000 by that time, and that's, you know, at minimum, three people each. and then, if you take grandparents, or grandparents of siblings and aunts and uncles, you know, you get a 100,000 votes out of that. ( laughs )
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>> stahl: after three terms in the house, he returned to muskogee and continued to deliver babies until 2004, when he won a senate seat. one of the first things he did-- true to form-- was pick a fight with the late republican senator ted stevens, who had been the chairman of the appropriations committee. stevens wanted to build a bridge project in his home state of alaska. >> coburn: we're going to put $456 million to go to an island of 50 people? you know, i ask... >> stahl: the "bridge to nowhere," right? >> coburn: the "bridge to nowhere." ( laughs ) and... and this is right after katrina happened. and so i offer an amendment to take that money from alaska and repair the stuff in louisiana. >> ted stevens: so i have been asked several times today, will i agree to this version or that version of senator from oklahoma's amendment? no! >> coburn: i lost that. but i won that. i absolutely won that because the american people saw that and they said, "wow." >> stahl: but what happened to you?
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they really came after you over that. you were still practicing medicine. >> coburn: yeah, they... they... >> stahl: you were still delivering babies. >> coburn: they took that away. >> stahl: they took that away. >> stahl: the senate ruled that it was a conflict of interest to be a senator and practice medicine on weekends, and made him stop. >> coburn: there were several people that i really irritated with the "bridge to nowhere." and they happen to sit on the ethics committee, you know. >> stahl: they shut you down? >> coburn: they whacked me pretty good. >> stahl: he says he was persona non grata with his republican colleagues. but he did have his alliance with the senator from illinois. >> obama: i've had the pleasure of working with senator coburn on a range of issues, but i can't think of one that's more important and more timely. >> coburn: the one thing we did is we got our staffs together and said, "we want to do some things together, find the areas you think that we can work together. and let's do them." and so we did. >> stahl: you wrote bills together? >> coburn: uh-huh. and got them passed.
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>> stahl: you got them passed? >> coburn: and got... and got them signed. we did a lot of stuff on lowering the rates on student loans, and re-calculating all that to save a lot of people a lot of money in the future going forward. >> stahl: they did that and more together, despite their many philosophical differences on global warming and all the social issues. but none of that has disrupted their friendship. >> coburn: i've told him, "don't let the s.o.b.s get you down," when he's been getting... i'll call him up and say, "hey, i'm pulling for you," you know. >> stahl: what's funny is that he himself has been one of the s.o.b.s, railing at the president when he disagrees, say, on health care or immigration. >> obama: i keep praying that god will show him the light and he will vote with me once in a while. ( laughter ) it's going to happen, tom. >> stahl: but now, tom is retiring, as he moves on to a new battle with an advanced case of prostate cancer. now, did you have to take chemo
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and radiation and all...? >> coburn: yeah, i'm in the midst of that right now. >> stahl: you are? >> coburn: yeah. >> stahl: look at you, you're totally energetic. it's not sapping you of... >> coburn: well, it will eventually, you know. yeah. >> stahl: will you lose your hair? >> coburn: maybe. >> carolyn coburn: oh. oh. ( laughter ) >> coburn: i got bill clinton hair, don't i? >> stahl: i know. >> coburn: everybody is going to die from something. and so the deal is how do you use each day to move things forward for both you and the people you love and the country you love. >> stahl: in december, coburn delivered an emotional farewell speech to his senate colleagues, whom he has served with, and occasionally blasted, over the last ten years. >> coburn: and a thank you to each of you for the privilege of having been able to work for a better country for us all. i yield the floor. ( applause )
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>> stahl: seb&nator coburn has just completed his chemotherapy treatments. he says that he lost his hair, but it is now slowly growing back. he recently sold his house in muskogee and has moved to tulsa. most importantly, he says he feels great. >> reporter: now a cbs sports update brought tu o yo by prevnar. today is the wind of championship. 51-year-old davis love won the title. in nfl preseason action, the steelers' ben roethlisberger led the pack -- team to a loss against the packers. more sports news and information go to cbs sports.com.
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>> whitaker: unless she's on her toes, misty copeland is just a little over five feet tall. but she's a towering figure in
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the world of ballet, a top dancer in one of the top companies-- american ballet theater. she's been called a prodigy, a breath of fresh air. misty copeland is the embodiment of the american dream. she grew up poor, didn't hear classical music until she was a teenager. she's an african american in a profession where there are few. at 32, she has reached the top of her profession. to do that, she has overcome more obstacles than most of us ever face. as we reported earlier this year, when misty copeland began, one dance company told her she would never make it in ballet. boy, were they wrong. misty copeland will tell you she's never more alive than when she's onstage, on her toes, her athleticism and grace on full display. she can leap through the air she can spin on a dime, she can
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make you believe she's a swan by a lake. you feel comfortable up there? >> misty copeland: yes. something happens when you feel that energy and excitement from the audience. and you do, i don't know, four pirouettes. you jump higher than you ever have. and it's just this really magical thing that happens in those moments. >> whitaker: she performs to sell-out crowds on grand stages across the country. but it was this commercial for the sportswear company under armour that introduced her to a new audience. about six and a half million people see live ballet every year. almost eight million viewed this commercial online. a different audience found her when she danced with pop star prince. and there she was on the cover of "time" magazine as one of the 100 most influential people. >> hi, misty!
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>> whitaker: we were at the stage door after a performance in orange county, california. she was mobbed like a rock star. >> can you sign my ticket, please? >> whitaker: misty copeland lives in new york city. she feels most at home on the stage of the metropolitan opera house, where american ballet theater performs. it's 3,000 miles and a world away from where she began. if there is such a thing as the wrong side of the tracks, that's where misty copeland grew up. she, her divorced mother, and five siblings moved around like nomads. down on their luck, they ended up here at this motel on a busy street in gardena, california, the whole family piled into two rooms. she hadn't been back in almost two decades until she returned with us. so what's it like seeing this again? >> copeland: it brings back so many feelings and memories. >> whitaker: good? bad? >> copeland: a little of both. but just a really hard time.
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because i was so embarrassed about it. >> whitaker: living here? >> copeland: yeah, i think that's why, when i saw the sign, i was expecting it to be so much bigger, because in my mind at that time, it was just like this thing that was so huge that i'd wanted to hide from. >> whitaker: she'd play with her brothers and sisters on the balcony. she imagined the railing outside their rooms to be her private studio. you said you would actually use these bars as your ballet barre? >> copeland: yeah, i would. i remember... >> whitaker: like what? can you do it? >> copeland: yeah, i would stretch out here and do my whole... i mean, it's actually a really good barre. ( laughs ) do my whole class out here. it was a... it was a nice little... little escape. >> whitaker: the graceful dancer we see today stumbled into ballet. a teacher at school noticed her fluid movement and suggested she check out the after-school ballet program at the san pedro boys and girls club.
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misty copeland was 13 years old. that's kind of old for someone to just start taking ballet. >> copeland: it is, yeah. >> whitaker: so, what was it like when you first walked in to a ballet studio? >> copeland: you know, my first ballet class was on a basketball court. i'm in my gym clothes and my socks, trying to do this thing called ballet. and i didn't know anything about it. >> cindy bradley: the first time i saw her, she was sitting high on the bleachers, and i had... i asked her to come down and join us. and it took a lot of coaxing. >> whitaker: the coaxer was cindy bradley, the ballet instructor who would change misty copeland's life. you might call it luck. cindy bradley says it was magic. >> bradley: i've never been able to put it in to words exactly, the feeling that i got. but it was almost like a vision of what she could be one day. >> whitaker: what is her talent? >> bradley: she had the perfect
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feet and she was flexible. i knew that she was going to be one of the greats. >> whitaker: bradley says misty copeland had a gift. if she saw a step, she could master it. it takes most ballerinas more than three years to get up on their toes. it took misty copeland three months. >> copeland: once i was a part of it, i couldn't get enough of it. so, every day, i came into the ballet studio, it was like, "oh my gosh, i'm going to learn something new today. what is it going to be?" and just soaking it all up. i just never experienced anything like that. >> bradley: yeah, we had to cram in a lot of lessons. we would work day and evenings to... to make up the time. >> whitaker: the training got so intense and time-consuming cindy bradley says one evening copeland's mother called and told her it was all too much that the ballet lessons had to end and asked her to drive her daughter home to the motel. and what did you think when you saw where she lived?
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>> bradley: i was a little shocked. and i just knew that dance was going to get her out of there. so, after driving partway home i turned around and knocked on the door and asked her mother to let her come and live with us. >> copeland: and i remember it so vividly, just cindy coming and speaking with my mother, and them making the decision right there on the spot for me to come and live with them. and i just packed up my little backpack, everything i had, put it in there and i left. >> whitaker: left the grim motel for a comfortable san pedro condo, where she lived with cindy bradley, her husband patrick and son wolf as part of the family. >> copeland: oh, my gosh. >> wolf bradley: what is it? >> copeland: it's a camera. >> whitaker: almost three years under bradley's wing, copeland began to blossom, to win awards, to gain attention.
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she says her mother saw her changing and feared she was losing her daughter, and finally demanded she come home for good. >> copeland: i did not want to leave ballet. and the thought of... of losing that and coming back and living at this motel was something that i just couldn't let happen. it was like watching my future slip away. >> whitaker: so, at the self- conscious age of 15, at the urging of cindy bradley, misty copeland went to court to seek independence from her mother. the local prodigy's legal drama made headlines. >> copeland: and it got to the point where it was so nasty that... >> whitaker: nasty and public. >> copeland: that was probably the hardest part was that it was so public. >> whitaker: after two bitter months, misty copeland dropped her bid for independence, left her life with cindy bradley, and moved back home with her mother. >> copeland: i just want keep dancing and hope that everyone's happy. >> whitaker: ballet, which was her lifeline, became her escape hatch. the next year, she won a scholarship to american ballet
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theater's summer program for gifted young dancers in new york. for the second time, she was spotted by someone who would change her life. this time, it was american ballet theatre director kevin mckenzie. what caught your eye? >> kevin mckenzie: she has a proportion to her body, and she has a response to music, a visceral response to music, and a coordination that are all the ingredients of a major ballet dancer. >> whitaker: she's now a soloist, one of the featured performers at american ballet theater, dancing in the footsteps of its legends, like mikhail baryshnikov. >> mckenzie: i used to wonder, as an african american, if she was aware of the symbol she could possibly be? >> whitaker: what do you mean? >> mckenzie: you know, if she goes where she can go, she's going to be a very big symbol. this is a very big deal here. >> whitaker: a big deal, because there are so few black dancers in major ballet companies. >> copeland: they're being told they don't fit in, they won't
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have a successful career, they don't have the bodies... even to this day, i... i hear that i shouldn't even be wearing a tutu. i don't have the right legs, my muscles are too big. >> whitaker: what do you think when you hear that? >> copeland: there are times when i believe it, when i start to question, you know, "maybe it... maybe i'm seeing myself in a different way than the people in the audience see me, because to me, i think i look like a ballerina and i feel like a ballerina. but maybe i'm not seeing what other people are seeing." >> whitaker: she's changing perceptions one step at a time. misty copeland is powerful elegant, determined. it takes a lot of effort to look this effortless. we saw her drive one night in orange county. amid the stage hands and exotic creatures, we found misty copeland tying up, lacing up making up. she was relaxed, but focused.
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>> copeland: there's maybe one part in my solo that's... that's a little bit difficult for me. >> whitaker: what part is that? i'll be looking for it. >> copeland: now, i don't want to tell you. >> whitaker: but she did tell us. it's hopping on her toes. it looked all right to us, but after the scene, we could see the frustration on her face. so what were you unhappy with? >> copeland: just that thing we were talking about, the hops. >> whitaker: she put on her stage face and finished the performance. she might look like a music box doll, but misty copeland is tough as nails. three years ago, in rehearsal for her first starring role as the mythical firebird, she didn't tell anyone her left leg was hurting badly. >> copeland: by the time the show came, it hurt just to walk, and the pressures of knowing how many people were coming out to
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support, how many people in the african american community, for the first time that understood what this meant to have an african american woman in this position, doing this role with american ballet theater at the metropolitan opera house. so it was like, "i'm doing this!" >> whitaker: critics hailed her performance, but it almost ended her career. turned out to be a very severe injury? >> copeland: yeah. i had six stress fractures in my tibia, and three of them were almost full breaks through the bone. and i was being told by severa doctors i would never dance again. >> whitaker: but seven months later, with a plate in her leg she was back on her toes. she had to build her way back, but soon was in top form dazzling audiences once again. ballet has lifted misty copeland from poverty, over assumptions about race, and through injury. but she wanted it to take her higher. she dreamed of making the leap to principal dancer, the most elite position in the ballet world.
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do you see that in your future? >> copeland: for the first time ever, i do. >> whitaker: she got her wish. this summer, misty copeland became the first african- american ballerina to be named principal dancer at american ballet theater. kevin mckenzie made the decision after seeing her in starring roles this year. ♪ ♪ ♪ in april, with the washington ballet at the john f. kennedy center for the performing arts she performed the most famous ballet of all, "swan lake." it was the first time two african americans danced the lead roles for a major company. it took her one step closer to her other goal of making ballet in america look like america, on stage and in the audience. ♪ ♪ ♪
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