Longtime NBC Sports Anchor George Michael Has Died

By Matthew Stabley
|  Friday, Dec 25, 2009  |  Updated 2:04 AM EDT
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    George Michael, the longtime NBC4 sports anchor known nationally for his syndicated sports highlights show “The George Michael Sports Machine,” passed away early Thursday morning at Sibley Memorial Hospital.

    Michael was 70 years old.

    Michael's daughter, Michelle Allen, said Michael was surrounded by family and friends when he died Thursday morning from complications of chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

    "He waged his battle against cancer with the same drive and determination that made him a one-of-a-kind in the broadcasting industry," the family said in a statement. "Whether it was covering a sports story, working on his horse farm, or spending time with family and friends, he approached everything in life with passion."

    Michael's family said plans for a memorial service are not yet complete.

    Known for his boisterous, energetic storytelling and sense of humor, Michael served as sports director for WRC-TV, NBC’s D.C. affiliate, for 27 years. Started as a local program in 1980s, “The Sports Machine” was syndicated in 1984 and aired Sunday nights across the country for more than two decades. It was the first nationally syndicated sports highlights show, eventually airing in 194 markets in the U.S. and in 10 foreign countries.

    “George Michael was our friend and colleague for more than 25 years,” NBC4 said in a statement released Thursday morning. “He was a dynamic force around our newsroom and in the entire Washington area. 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, his son Brad, as well as the rest of his family.”

    Michael also created and hosted the popular "Redskins Report" and "Full Court Press," the former co-hosted by former Washington Redskins greats Sonny Jurgensen and John Riggins. He launched the television careers of numerous national sports personalities, including Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon.

    "While we're obviously devastated by the news, you just couldn't help be affected by George's infectious personality," Wilbon said. "He commanded a room and could sustain that."

    And when it came to getting a Redskins coach to talk, Michael's access was unrivaled.

    "George was the consummate reporter and a valuable friend," Redskins owner Dan Snyder said in a statement released Thursday morning. "I doubt we'll ever again see a sports reporter who was so admired by the people he covered. He loved his family, he loved sports and he loved his work. His wife, Pat, and the rest of his family are in my prayers and in the thoughts of the entire Redskins organization."

    He brought unique life to his segments with coverage of sports like rodeo, professional wrestling and the terrier races.

    "George Michael will forever hold a special place in the hearts and minds of sports fans across the District of Columbia, and indeed, across the nation," D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray said. "The use of videotape, flash and drama marked Michael's revolutionary, creative style of bringing sports news into our homes."

    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.

    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 he 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 "Sports Machine" show ran until March 2007. Michael continued to appear on air for the next couple of years as host of "Redskins Report" and "Full Court Press."

    A St. Louis native who graduated from Saint Louis University, Michael was a rock and roll disc jockey in Philadelphia in the late '60s and early '70s before moving to WABC in New York in 1974. (Click here to read more about Michael in New York from a 1970s co-worker.)

    He came to WRC-TV in 1980.

    "Recently, my last conversation with him, he was feeling good that day," Wilbon said. "He was in full George voice and he was ranting about something about the Redskins, and it reminded me of how much he loved what he did, how fortunate the people of Washington were over a quarter of a century to have George Michael bringing them all kinds of news and information and features."

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