Frank Deford, a longtime Sports Illustrated writer, author and commentator, died Sunday in Key West, FL, his wife confirmed to multiple media outlets. The author of 18 books, nine of which were novels, Deford was also a Peabody, CableACE and Emmy winner, the latter for his work as a writer during the 1988 Seoul Olympics. His 1981 novel, Everybody’s All-American, was made into a 1988 film directed by Taylor Hackford.
Deford began writing for SI in 1962, becoming known as “the master of the bonus story,” aka the longest piece in each issue, the magazine said today.
He also worked with NPR’s Morning Edition for 32 years, retiring earlier this month, and was a contributor to HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel since it launched in April 1995. From 1990-91, he was the editor-in-chief of The National, America’s first all-sports daily newspaper.
Deford was elected to the National Association of Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame in 1998 and was named U.S. Sportswriter of the Year six times. He was a Peabody recipient for writing the 1999 HBO documentary Dare to Compete and was honored by President Barack Obama with a 2012 National Humanities Medal.
Everybody’s All-American was released by Warner Bros in 1988. It starred Dennis Quaid, Jessica Lange and Timothy Hutton and followed a Louisiana football legend who struggles to deal with life’s complexities after his college career is over.
During his two-decade run on Real Sports, Deford delivered 119 segments covering a wide range of topics. Frank also served as a feature reporter for HBO at Wimbledon in the ’90s and as the writer for a host of HBO Sports documentary specials, including Bill Russell: My Life, My Way and Rebels of Oakland: The A’s, the Raiders, the ’70s.
Real Sports host Bryant Gumbel described himself as “stunned” in a statement. “Yes, he’d been ill, but just a week ago, he’d joked to me about finally being released from the hospital,” Gumbel said. “In addition to being an immense talent, he was a consummate gentleman, a dear friend and a beloved, original member of our Real Sports family. Frank was a giant in the world of sports. His loss is immeasurable.”
Here is a conversation Deford had onstage with Bob Costas at New York’s 92nd Street Y in November: