RIP Jim McKay

As reported on at the NY Times as well as many other spots.

I cannot claim to have grown up on McKay’s work, but he was a familiar figure to me in my younger years — ABC’s Wide World of Sports was a regular fixture to watch on late Saturday afternoons, almost as regular a thing for as Saturday morning cartoons, while I remember him being an avuncular enough host for the Sarajevo and Los Angeles Olympics (I believe I must have seen him on the Lake Placid coverage as well but the memories are slightly dimmer then).

I was too young to have known the work he did which still defined his career, which I’m sure must have been at once profoundly moving and distressing for him to look back at — Munich 1972, specifically his 16-hour-stint of covering the Israeli athletes’ kidnapping and the resultant botched rescue attempt where both kidnappers and victims were slain.

This piece he wrote in 2002 looking back over thirty years to that time is well worth a read. To quote:

These were athletes in the old Olympic tradition. They were amateurs. Almost from the first minute I was on the air, I thought about a young man named David Berger, who had immigrated to Israel because he wanted to be in the Olympic. It just made the whole thing worse and worse.

A producer called me early in the morning of Sept. 5 and said terrorists had broken into the Olympic Village, and to get right over because we were going on the air in 45 minutes. When he called to tell me what was going on, I was in the sauna. I had just taken a swim. I just put on my clothes and went out there. I still had a bathing suit on under my clothes.

Roone told me he selected me to do this because I had been a newspaper reporter, not a sports reporter. He knew I had been a reporter and wanted me in the studio so I wasn’t scared.

I realized in the end, I am going to be the person who is going to tell David Berger’s family whether he is alive or dead.

The interview I’m linking below, done for the Archive of American Television‘s TV Oral History project, discusses that time as well as other work he did. A half-hour long, it doesn’t cover his full career by any means, but is a good primer, and gives a sense of his abilities with the camera as well as with his voice, warm and intelligent. Worth a watch.

Thanks sir — your son’s testimony seems to be the best summary (Sean McManus runs CBS Sports):

“Because of the profession I’m in, not a day goes by when someone doesn’t stop me and say, ‘I admire your father’ or ‘I loved his work,’ ” Mr. McManus said. “That tells you a lot about the kind of man he was.”

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