×

Lakers lose a legend

Longtime announcer Hearn, 85, succumbs after fall

Chick Hearn, the rapid-fire, iron-man basketball announcer who called nearly every Los Angeles Lakers basketball game since the team moved to L.A. from Minneapolis in the early 1960s, died Monday evening at Northridge Medical Center Hospital from head injuries he suffered in a fall in the back yard of his Encino home Friday. He was 85.

Hearn, who added such terms as “air ball” and “slam dunk” to the sports lexicon, had suffered a series of health problems this past season.

His record streak of announcing 3,338 consecutive Lakers games over 36 years was ended by a blocked aortic valve that required heart surgery in December. While recovering, he fell and broke his hip in February. He was able to return at the end of the season and covered all the games throughout the team’s championship run. He even drove to Las Vegas with his wife last week to speak at a fantasy basketball camp.

The only play-by-play announcer the L.A. Lakers ever had, Hearn is honored in the Basketball Hall of Fame — only the third broadcaster to be so feted — and has a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. In June, he received a Los Angeles Area Emmy Award for lifetime achievement.

So well known was he that he played himself in films including “White Men Can’t Jump,” “Fletch” and “The Love Bug” and TV shows such as “The Simpsons.” He also hosted the L.A. TV show “Bowling for Dollars” in the 1970s.

Rapid play-by-play

Venerated by other broadcasters and famous for his game simulcasts on radio and TV, Hearn was known for his ability to not only call play-by-play action but literally step-by-step and pass-by-pass accounts in a torrent of rapid, precise, almost photographic descriptions. His catch phrases — “faked him into the popcorn machine” or “caught with his hand in the cookie jar”– and nicknames gave Hearn an allure and personality rarely found on the nation’s sports airwaves.

Born Francis Dayle Hearn on Nov. 27, 1916, in Aurora, Ill., Hearn missed only two games before his unprecedented streak — one because bad weather kept him grounded and one because he had another broadcast assignment.

The first game of the streak was Nov. 21, 1965, at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.

The broadcaster’s drive to keep his streak alive often caused him to struggle under adverse conditions. In the 1998-99 playoffs, while suffering from laryngitis, Hearn called a series against the San Antonio Spurs, his voice cracking and squeaking pronouncedly.

Personal tragedies

Poignantly a few years ago, as an aside while calling a game, he asked listeners if they’d keep his daughter in their thoughts as she battled an eating disorder. She died not long after. He also had a son who died of an drug overdose in the 1970s.

Since the 1980s, whenever he believed a Lakers victory was clinched, Hearn would say: “You can put this one in the refrigerator. The door’s closed, the light’s out, the eggs are cooling, the butter’s getting hard, and the Jell-O is jiggling.”

When receiving his Emmy in June, Hearn told the audience he didn’t consider himself a cheerleader for the Lakers. “My main objective when I get behind a microphone is to entertain, yes, but to be honest. If (former Lakers star and general manager) Jerry West threw the ball up in the second row and hit some old lady drinking a beer, that’s tough. You got to report it.”

Upon learning of Hearn’s surgery in December, NBA broadcaster Marv Albert said, “He’s one of the pioneers, one of the giants. For me, Chick Hearn ranks with Marty Glickman and Johnny Most as the three biggest names ever to announce NBA games.”

“There’s never going to be another Chick Hearn,” famed player Earvin “Magic” Johnson said Monday. “He’s a man who will be remembered long after. Some people grow bigger than their sport, bigger than their job.

“He didn’t just support Magic Johnson for what he did on the court, he supported Earvin Johnson Jr. When I talked to Chick, a lot of times it was hardly about basketball. He was always so proud of me. I would get little notes from him. That would make me feel so good.”

Survivors include his wife, Marge, with whom he would have celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary Aug. 13, and granddaughter Shannon and her family.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • A Planned Parenthood clinic is seen,

    Variety to Forgo Annual Emmy Party for Donation to Planned Parenthood

    Variety has decided to make a donation to Planned Parenthood in lieu of hosting this year’s annual Emmy Awards nominees party in partnership with Women In Film. The decision comes in response to Planned Parenthood’s Aug. 19 announcement that it will drop funding over the current administration’s “unethical” rule blocking the organization from discussing its [...]

  • Rebel Wilson Isn't It Romantic

    TV News Roundup: Rebel Wilson to Host First Australian Amazon Original Series

    In today’s TV news roundup, the NFL and Pluto TV announce the launch of a new channel, and Rebel Wilson is named as the host of the first Amazon original series to come out of Australia.  CASTING Rebel Wilson is set to host and executive produce the Australian Amazon original series “LOL: Last One Laughing,” the [...]

  • Moffatt Family with the Himba tribe

    U.K.’s Channel 4 Takes British Family to Africa in New Reality Show

    U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 has greenlit new factual entertainment format “The British Tribe Next Door,” which will see a British family spend four weeks with a remote tribe in Namibia. The twist in this format is that, unlike most adventurers, the participants don’t say goodbye to the comforts of their home — instead, they take them with [...]

  • Christian Serratos as Rosita Espinosa - The

    'Walking Dead' Star Christian Serratos in Talks for Selena Series at Netflix

    Christian Serratos is in negotiations to star in the upcoming Netflix series based on the life of Tejano music star Selena Quintanilla, Variety has confirmed with sources. The series was announced back in December and is described as a coming of age story following Selena (Serratos) as her dreams come true and all the heart-wrenching [...]

  • Songs for Screens Powered by Mac

    Songs for Screens: 'American Horror Story' Makes 'Suddenly Last Summer' Sizzle Again

    FX Network’s “American Horror Story” returns for a ninth season next month, and promos for the next chapter of the anticipated series, dubbed ‘AHS 1984,’ have been airing frequently across cable television throughout August. In the short yet effective spot (see below), the Motels’ melancholic, moody “Suddenly Last Summer” plays as aerial footage of an [...]

  • Wanda Sykes, Mike Epps to Star

    Wanda Sykes, Mike Epps to Star in Multi-Camera Comedy Series for Netflix

    Wanda Sykes and Mike Epps are headed to Netflix. The streamer has ordered a multi-camera comedy series starring the two comedians titled “The Upshaws.” The series centers on a working-class Africian American family in Indiana struggling to make it work and make it right without the blueprints to do it. Sykes will executive produce and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content