By Steve Farhood
My best friend died today, and I’m surprised at what saddens me more than anything else: that more people didn’t have the opportunity to know Nick Charles.
Diagnosed with stage four bladder cancer two years ago, Nick passed away Friday night at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His wife Cory and five-year-old daughter Giovanna were at his side. He is also survived by his children from previous marriages, son Jason and daughters Melissa and Katie.
Nick was five days shy of his 65th birthday.
I suppose that one man’s life is no more significant than another’s, but to deny that Nick was special would be foolish. Nick often said that you judge a man by how he treats someone who can do nothing for him. He was generous of spirit and overflowing with life, and if you spent five minutes with him, chances are it was an impressionable, if not meaningful, encounter.
Born Nicholas Charles Nickeas, Nick was the son of a Chicago cab driver. He drove a cab himself while attending Columbia College Chicago and years later would identify with boxers who had lifted themselves from humble beginnings.
He was the very embodiment of a self-made man, a man’s man, and a good man.
A perfect set of pipes and the best hair in the business undoubtedly helped Nick succeed in television, but his warmth, which viewers instantly felt, and his natural curiosity, which they instantly sensed, separated him from most other broadcasters.
Nick’s first job came in 1970 at a television station in Springfield, Illinois. In addition to covering sports, he taped weekly farm reports. During one live shot, a wolf urinated on his leg.
No, I can’t imagine either.
Next came a quick ascension: sports anchor jobs in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and in June 1980, a move to Atlanta, where Nick helped launch CNN. He and co-anchor Fred Hickman were daily presences for 17 years. Their chemistry was palpable.
Nick worked everything from the World Series and the Kentucky Derby to the Goodwill Games in Moscow and the big fights in Vegas. He did roadwork with Ali and became a confidant of George Steinbrenner. His favorite sports were boxing and horse racing, which proves that he had taste as well as talent. But to define Nick by his work in sports is ridiculously narrow. He was a world traveler; his knowledge of subjects as diverse as dogs, economics, cooking, and classical music was comprehensive; and then there was wine. He talked about it, shopped for it, and drank it with unyielding passion.
I can’t recall how many hours I spent by his side while he painstakingly searched for a top-level Cabernet during boxing stops in New Town, North Dakota, Concho, Oklahoma, or Sault St. Marie, Michigan.
I began working with Nick at CNN in the mid-‘90s. In 2001, we were teamed as broadcasters for the new “ShoBox” series on Showtime. It took him about a show-and-a-half to become one of the best blow-by-blow announcers the sport has ever known.
Nick’s enthusiasm and energy made every show seem like our first. He was never happier than when ringside.
Nick lived a public life, so perhaps it was fitting that he chose to battle cancer in front of the cameras. His message was a simple one: We’re all going to die. Until that happens, keep doing what makes you happy, focus on the short term, and love those closest to you with all your heart.
In all our conversations, I never heard Nick once say he was scared to die. His spirituality gave him comfort, and his grace gave it to others. At the end, Cory told me he looked better than at any point since his diagnosis. There can be only one explanation for that: He was truly at peace.
During his battle with cancer, Nick recorded video diaries for Giovanna, to be played once a year on her birthdays. In time, she’ll realize what a lucky girl she was to have Nick as a father.
I already know how lucky I was to have him as a friend.
If there was a lesson we all learned from Nick during his courageous battle, it was to embrace life no matter how dire the circumstances. Nick’s motto was “Love what you’re doing.”
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