Sportscaster George Michael dies at 70

Updated: December 25, 2009, 12:31 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

WASHINGTON -- George Michael, a veteran Washington sportscaster who gained national recognition with his syndicated "The George Michael Sports Machine" highlights show, died Thursday. He was 70.

George Michael

Michael

Michael's daughter, Michelle Allen, said Michael died from complications of chronic lymphocytic leukemia at Sibley Memorial Hospital.

Michael worked at Washington's WRC-TV for 28 years until his resignation in 2008. The Washington Post said Michael left the station over budget cuts his programs were facing.

"George Michael was our friend and colleague for more than 25 years. He was a dynamic force around our newsroom and in the entire Washington area," the station said in a statement Thursday. "George was a pioneer in sports broadcasting. He was a gifted interviewer, a master storyteller, and one of the hardest working journalists out there. Our hearts go out to his wife Pat and his daughter Michelle, both of whom also worked with us for many years, as well as the rest of his family."

Michael's highlight-rich program, which launched in 1984, eventually morphed into "The George Michael Sports Machine" and was syndicated to more than 200 stations at its peak.

"George was the consummate reporter and a valuable friend," Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder said in a statement. "I doubt we'll ever again see a sports reporter who was so admired by the people he covered."

Redskins head coach Jim Zorn, who worked with Michael on his show about the team last year, said Michael was a "real legend." Zorn recounted his late Wednesday afternoon visit with Michael.

"I got to hold his hand. I got to talk with him about football. I got to talk to him about what he has meant to me. I got to pray with him," he said in a statement. "I got to yell at him because he has always yelled at me. I have fond, fond memories."

Former Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs said Michael was a dear friend whose advice he leaned on many times.

"His courage over these past few years really stood out to me. Every time I spoke with him I came away encouraged by his upbeat approach to fighting this illness," Gibbs said in a statement.

Michael won more than 40 Emmy Awards and members of the "Sports Machine" staff received more than 100 Emmys for their work on the show. He also helped jump-start the TV careers of several national sports personalities, including David Aldridge, Bonnie Bernstein, Tony Kornheiser, Joe Theismann and Michael Wilbon.

Jeff Martinez, 40, of Sterling, Va., who worked on "Sports Machine" first as an intern and later as an associate producer from 1991 to 1995, said Michael was a perfectionist.

"You had to bring your A-game every day," Martinez said. Michael had no problem letting a staffer know "if you weren't performing what he thought your potential was."

Martinez also said Michael was supportive when Martinez was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, which affects the digestive system, allowing him to take a leave of absence.

"He definitely took care of his own ... he was very very caring," he said. "Rather than pressuring me to come back to work sooner than I needed to, he was always there calling me and making sure I was doing well."

The show ran until March 2007. Michael said in late 2006 that significant layoffs and staff cuts announced at NBC, which owns WRC, prompted his decision to end the show.

Michael's family said plans for a memorial service are not yet complete. Besides his daughter, Michelle, he is survived by his wife of 31 years, Patricia, and his son, Brad.

"The passion that he brought to television was the same as he brought to being a father," Allen said. "He appreciated everything and he appreciated his fans."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.