John Saunders, one of the longest-tenured ESPN anchors in the network’s history and one of its most versatile, suddenly died on Wednesday. He was 61 years old.
Saunders’ death was announced by ESPN, which did not reveal a cause of death. He recently write a book about his battle with depression that is set for release next year.
TMZ Sports reported on August 10 that his wife found him unresponsive. Police were called to his home at 4 a.m., but they were not able to revive him.
ESPN President John Skipper said Saunders was an “extraordinary talent,” whose “friendly, informative style has been a warm welcome to sports fans for decades.”
Here’s a look at Saunders’ life and career. This is a breaking story, so check back for updates.
1. He Wrote a Book About His Battle With Severe Depression That Comes Out in 2017
Saunders battled depression and had just written a book called Playing Hurt: My Journey From Despair with John U. Bacon. The book is set for release on April 11, 2017. The publisher’s synopsis of the book reads:
His story unfolds as so many of our lives do—among family, friends, and colleagues—but it also peers into places we don’t often discuss openly—psych wards and hospitals. Here is the honest story of a public figure facing his own mental illness head on, and emerging far better off for his effort.
Bacon tweeted about working with Saunders, writing that they spent five years together on the book.
In 2013, Saunders appeared in a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services PSA in 2013 to share his own story of battling depression. You can watch the PSA below.
Saunders is on the board of directors for the Jimmy V Foundation, the cancer research foundation created by ESPN and inspired by Jim Valvano. Saunders was a founding board member.
Saunders also advocated for juvenile diabetes research.
“His wide range of accomplishments across numerous sports and championship events is among the most impressive this industry has ever seen,” Skipper said of Saunders. “More importantly, John was a beloved and devoted family man who cared deeply about people and causes, as evidenced by his long-standing efforts as a passionate board member for The V Foundation for Cancer Research.”
2. Saunders Had Been at ESPN Since 1986 & Signed a New Multi-Year Deal in 2015
Saunders started his career at ESPN in 1986, before the network was even owned by The Walt Disney Company. Saunders and the network signed a multi-year deal in August 2015. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
“I’m closing in on 40 years as a sportscaster, during which time I’ve covered or hosted The World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup Finals, NBA Finals, College Football title games and the Final Four,” Saunders said in a statement when the signing was announced. “But I am most proud of the 28 plus years I’ve spent as part of our family here at ESPN. Bob (Ley), Boomer (Chris Berman) and I all started on SportsCenter, and the three of us are coming up on a combined 101 years at ESPN. How many places can say that? This is home.”
In 2011, Saunders missed a weekend of work after an accidental fall.
3. Saunders Was Born in Canada & Played Junior Hockey
Saunders did have some experience as an athlete himself. According to his ESPN biography, Saunders played in the Montreal Junior Hockey leagues as a defenseman. He got a scholarship to Western Michigan, where he played in 1974, 1975 and 1976. He then played at Toronto’s Ryerson Polytechnical in the Ontario University Athletic Association.
The Ontario native also did hockey news reports for CHOO-Radio. His brother, Bernie, had more success in hockey, playing for the Quebec Nordiques from 1979 to 1981.
4. Saunders Is Survived By His Wife & Two Children
Saunders lived in New York, where officials told TMZ he died. He is survived by his wife Wanda, and their two daughters, Aleah and Jennah. TMZ reports that police did rule out foul play.
In their responses to Saunders’ shocking death, ESPN reporters asked that thoughts and prayers be sent to his family.
5. Saunders Started His Broadcasting Career in Toronto, Before Going to Baltimore
Saunders’ professional career began in his native Canada. He was at ATV News in New Brunswick from 1979-1980 and CKNY-TV in Ontario from 1978 to 1979. He was the play-by-play commentator for the NBA’s Toronto Raptors from 1995 to 2001, even as he still worked at ESPN.
Before ESPN hired him, he worked at WMAR-TV in Baltimore and also hosted an Orioles pre-game show.
Saunders was a true versatile sportscaster, calling all four major sports, as well as college football. His most recent hosting job was The Sports Reporters, a Sunday morning talk show with sports journalists.
Somehow, Saunders never won a Sports Emmy. He was nominated for Outstanding Sports Personality – Studio Host in 1994, 1996, 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2007, but never won.