Lee Leonard, an urbane host of sports activities and leisure applications who launched ESPN to a small viewers on the day of its debut in 1979, died on Sunday at his residence in South Orange, N.J. He was 89.
His spouse, Kelly Bishop, confirmed his loss of life.
Mr. Leonard was a well-regarded veteran of native and nationwide sports activities studio exhibits when executives at ESPN, which was simply getting off the bottom, requested him to be a co-anchor of “SportsCenter,” envisioned because the community’s flagship information and highlights program. And it was “SportsCenter’s” inaugural broadcast that launched the community, with Mr. Leonard delivering its first phrases, on Sept. 7, 1979, setting ESPN on its path to changing into a tv empire.
“In the event you love sports activities — for those who actually love sports activities — you’ll suppose you’ve died and gone to sports activities heaven,” Mr. Leonard mentioned.
After a montage of sports activities footage, he added, “Yea, verily, a sampler of wonders.”
George Grande, his co-anchor that night time, recalled that their first present fell eight minutes quick and that they needed to ad-lib till the top.
“I mentioned to Lee, ‘Are you in favor of a soccer playoff?’ and we flipped a coin and took sides to indicate what SportsCenter might be,” Mr. Grande mentioned by phone.
Mr. Leonard introduced maturity to the fledgling community. By then he had been a disc jockey, radio discuss present host and the co-host with Invoice Mazer of a pioneering Sunday night time program — “Sports activities Additional” on WNEW-TV in New York — that supplied in depth highlights, scores and commentary.
“I liked his perspective,” Bob Ley, a longtime ESPN anchor mentioned of Mr. Leonard in a phone interview. “Typically he’d say, ‘Let’s get this present written so we will hang around and inform some lies.’ He was straight out of ‘The Entrance Web page.’ ”
Mr. Leonard stayed at ESPN — which stood for the Leisure and Sports activities Programming Community — for about six months, upset that it didn’t reside as much as the leisure a part of its title and provides him a platform to cowl present enterprise.
“I used to be uninterested in sports activities,” Mr. Leonard mentioned in an interview with the creator James Andrew Miller for “These Guys Have All of the Enjoyable” (2011), an oral historical past of ESPN. “So when it turned apparent to me that there wasn’t going to be any leisure, sensible me, I believed this factor was by no means going to work. So my agent known as me and mentioned, ‘There’s this loopy man, Ted Turner, who’s doing a information community.’ ”
The community was CNN, which began up in 1980, and it gave Mr. Leonard the leisure outlet he wished, a present known as “Folks Tonight.” However his time as its host didn’t final lengthy. He was changed in 1982 by Mike Douglas, the longtime syndicated talk-show host.
Mr. Leonard subsequently returned to CNN for a number of years within the 1980s to host “Showbiz At this time.”
In 1986, Mr. Leonard revealed a novel, “I Miss You When You’re Right here,” a couple of disc jockey who turns into the star of a community tv present. Mr. Leonard gave the lead character, Maxwell Lefkowitz, his actual title.
Maxwell Lefkowitz was born on April Three, 1929, in New York Metropolis to Daniel Lefkowitz and Estelle (Cohn) Lefkowitz a beautician. After graduating from DeWitt Clinton Excessive Faculty within the Bronx, he attended Columbia College however didn’t graduate. He served within the Military in Germany throughout the Korean Battle.
Mr. Leonard turned desirous about broadcasting within the army, and after his discharge he labored as a disc jockey in numerous cities, together with Norfolk, Va., and Cincinnati. In 1964, he was employed by WNBC-AM in New York because the host of a daytime discuss present. Early on in his radio profession, he modified his title to Lee Leonard.
Mr. Leonard moved to native tv in 1971 because the host of “Noon Dwell,” a chat present on WNEW-TV in New York, and a 12 months later was teamed with Mr. Mazer on “Sports activities Additional,” which was one thing of a prototype of ESPN’s SportsCenter. Mr. Leonard’s refined and infrequently sarcastic model blended nicely with Mr. Mazer’s passionate method and encyclopedic recall of sports activities details and figures. (Mr. Mazer died in 2013.)
Mr. Leonard moved on from each jobs inside a number of years to NBC Sports activities, the place he hosted “Grandstand,” a pregame studio present, and later “NFL ’77,” with Bryant Gumbel. Mike Weisman, a former prime producer at NBC, recalled in an interview that Mr. Leonard might be flippant; in a single occasion he instructed viewers soccer sport with many shut performs that had ended with a Three-Zero rating “had no highlights.”
Writing in The Chicago Tribune in 1976, the media critic Gary Deeb mentioned that Mr. Leonard’s erudition had elevated “Grandstand,” which had beforehand been hosted by Jack Buck, the longtime announcer for the St. Louis Cardinals.
“In addition to with the ability to discuss intelligently,” Mr. Deeb wrote, “Leonard additionally possesses a expertise shared by few different sportscaster — he’s a effective author.”
However he was fired in 1978 by Don Ohlmeyer, the manager producer of NBC Sports activities, liberating him to affix the fledgling ESPN when it known as.
“He is aware of his sports activities,” Mr. Ley mentioned, “however there was much more to him than highlights.”
Along with Ms. Bishop, an actress who met Mr. Leonard when he interviewed her on “Noon Dwell,” he’s survived by his daughter, Norma Sheryl Leonard, and a grandson. His marriages to Rona Rosenberg and Salome Jens resulted in divorce.
After his second stint at CNN, Mr. Leonard coached company executives on dealing with media interviews and for a number of years, beginning within the mid-1990s, was a information anchor and discuss present host for Information 12, a New Jersey cable station.
Considered one of his regrets was leaving ESPN as quickly as he did.
“He liked sports activities,” Ms. Bishop mentioned in a phone interview, “however he liked doing discuss exhibits and interviews, so he received pulled in that course to CNN. Via the years, although, he mentioned he ought to have stayed with ESPN. He was type of all the time beginning one thing new.”