Nick Charles, a pioneering figure in cable TV sports at CNN and one-time Baltimore broadcaster at WJZ-TV, died Saturday at his home in New Mexico, according to the cable news network. He was 64 and had been battling bladder cancer since 2009.
Mr. Charles, who worked as a sports anchor at WJZ-TV from 1972 to 1976, died “peacefully, looking out at the spectacular land that drew him to Santa Fe, New Mexico,” his wife, Cory, a producer for CNN International, told the network.
“As a journalist and sports personality, Nick Charles helped put CNN on the map in its early days,” Jim Walton, president of CNN Worldwide, said in a statement Saturday. “He brought intelligence, style and heart to his work — qualities that translated to our company and inspired those of us who were fortunate to work alongside him. His passing is a loss to CNN, to the sports world and to the fans and friends everywhere who were with him to the end of his extraordinary life. Like them, our thoughts today are of Nick and with his family.”
Richard Sher, who as an anchor and reporter at WJZ-TV worked with Charles during his Baltimore years, remembered him as a “smart, and very funny guy — as well as a super-talented sportscaster.”
“In terms of his work as a sportscaster, you knew right away that he would soon be moving up and onto bigger things,” Sher said in an interview Saturday. “But he was a great guy to work with while he was here. He wasn’t from Baltimore, but he had that Baltimore sense of humor — smart and sarcastic in a good way.”
The Chicago native came to Baltimore from WICS in Springfield, Illinois, where a news director suggested he change his name from Nicholas Charles Nickeas.
Charles started anchoring sports reports on CNN in 1980 — the earliest days of the marriage between cable and sports. (ESPN debuted in 1979.) He co-anchored CNN’s “Sports Tonight” for almost 20 years with Fred Hickman, who remembered his partner to CNN as “a great storyteller … who helped me become a better storyteller … and person.”
While Charles covered all major sporting events for CNN, his passion was boxing. From 2001 to 2010, he worked as a fight announcer for Showtime and Top Rank. In his final months as he battled cancer, HBO made it possible for him to be involved with one more TV fight.
After reading in a Sports Illustrated interview with Charles that the former CNN sportscaster wished he could call one last match, executives at HBO invited him to Atlantic City to call the bout between featherweights Mikey Garcia and Max Remillard.
“The HBO people told me it was the most joyous fight call they had ever heard,” Charles said in Sun interview in April.
Charles, who worked his way through college driving a cab, said he was using his final months to try and be a role model.
“That's what I want to do: inspire people to embrace life,” he told the Sun. “. . . I've had 20 months that people are validating my life. If I had gotten run over by a bus, it would have been a nice eulogy, yeah, but I would have never heard it.”
He said at the end, that his life was a “series of short-term goals that really sustain me.”
“I wanted to be here for my daughter's first piano lesson, and I made it,” he said of his youngest child Giovanna. “I made it for her fifth birthday. . . I feel like I'm going to a better place, and I'm going to join the people I love.”
In addition to Cory, his wife of 13 years, and their daughter, Giovanna, 5, Charles is survived by three other children from two previous marriages. They are: Jason, 39; Melissa, 36, and Katie, 24.
CNN, the channel that Charles helped establish, has the definitive package on his life and career. You can find that online here.
The Sun's Kevin Cowherd spoke with Charles in April about his WJZ years and his career and life since -- including his thoughts on his final days.
There are good days and bad days, he says. He was taking Giovanna to school the other day and saw a bluebird alighting on a tree branch, a sight so breath-taking he almost wept.
"Good day," he says. "Great day."
But the bad days are there, too, more and more of them.
He sleeps with oxygen — the cancer is in his lungs and lymph nodes — and a catheter, too, so he's not padding off to the bathroom every 45 minutes. And during many of the long, dark nights, he thinks of what his final days will be like.
"It's going to be real peaceful-like ending," he says now. "It's not going to be agony."
Morphine will help. So, he says, will his strong Christian faith. He pictures himself in bed, surrounded by loves ones, his body shutting down, gradually unable to take nourishment.
"The last few days, you're eating ice chips," he says. "Your organs lose out to the cancer."
And then it'll be over, he says of his "temporal life" here on Earth.
"I'm sustained by my faith in Christ," he says. "I have assurances that salvation is mine."
Before he hangs up, Nick Charles asks if I have any kids. I tell him I do.
"Hug them every day," he says. "Because you never know."
You can read that Sun interview here.
CNN will re-air a tribute to Charles, titled "Sanjay Gupta MD -- Nick Charles: Lessons from the Fight," at 7:30 a.m. Sunday.
In a statement Saturday, Gupta said: "Even though we knew this day would come, it was still a shock to hear about the passing of my friend Nick. He was a grand dreamer, and his dreams only grew when confronted with the mortality he faced with courage and grace. I grew up watching Nick reporting the biggest sports stories, and it was a privilege to later know him, and call him a friend. We shared the special bond of being fathers to young daughters, and my heavy heart is with 5-year-old Giovanna today, his extraordinary wife Cory, and his entire family."
And here's video from CNN on his career: