Obituary: Lee Leonard, First Voice on ESPN, Dies at South Orange Home

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Lee Leonard, the first voice ever heard on ESPN, died Sunday at his home in South Orange at the age of 89.

According to a report on, Leonard joined at the network’s inception in 1979, after a career in radio at WNBC-AM in New York, and TV jobs with CBS and NBC.

Lee Leonard (ESPN)

Leonard is survived by his wife, the actress Kelly Bishop, and a daughter.

According to an obituary in The New York Times, Leonard worked as a disc jockey, radio talk show host and co-host of “Sports Extra” on WNEW-TV in New York before joining the new ESPN — bringing “maturity” to the network. He later spent time at CNN and NBC Sports.

Here is an excerpt from the NYT article; read the full article here.

Mr. Leonard was a well-regarded veteran of local and national sports studio shows when executives at ESPN, which was just getting off the ground, asked him to be a co-anchor of “SportsCenter,” envisioned as the network’s flagship news and highlights program. And it was “SportsCenter’s” inaugural broadcast that launched the network, with Mr. Leonard delivering its first words, on Sept. 7, 1979, setting ESPN on its path to becoming a television empire.

“If you’re a fan — if you’re a fan — what you’ll see in the next minutes, hours and days to follow may convince you you’ve gone to sports heaven,” Mr Leonard said.

After a montage of sports footage, he added, “Yea, verily, a sampler of wonders.”

George Grande, his co-anchor, said in a phone interview that their first show fell eight minutes short and that they had to ad-lib till the end. “I said to Lee, ‘Are you in favor of a football playoff?’ ” Mr. Grande said, “and we flipped a coin and took sides to show what SportsCenter could be.”


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