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OBITUARY: ESPN founding president Chester R. Simmons

Pioneering sports broadcaster Chester R. Simmons, who served as president of ESPN during the company's launch in 1979, has died. He was 81.

Simmons' family said he died in Atlanta yesterday.

Simmons began in broadcasting in 1957 with Sports Programs, Inc., which became ABC Sports.

Simmons was involved in developing "Wide World of Sports" before becoming president of NBC Sports and later ESPN. He was also founding commissioner of the USFL.

ESPN and ABC Sports president George Bodenheimer credited Simmons with pioneering both sports broadcasting in the late 1950s and cable television in the late '70s.

"Chet Simmons' leadership and vision in our first years were absolutely critical to ESPN's survival," Bodenheimer said in an obituary posted at ESPN.com. "His legacy lives on in ESPN's culture, stellar employees and commentators, and innovative programming.''

ESPN anchor Chris Berman said that what viewers see today "would have never been possible without him."

Bob Ley, whom Simmons hired as a "SportsCenter'' anchor the first week of ESPN's operation, added: "I will forever treasure the trust that Chet placed in all of us at the beginning in 1979. He brought this young network immediate expertise and credibility.''

Simmons was born on July 11, 1928, in New York City, and was raised in Ossining, and Pawtucket, R.I. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in broadcasting from the University of Alabama and did graduate work in radio and television at Boston University. He later served in the Coast Guard.

Simmons had been living in Georgia since 1986. Survivors include his wife of 53 years, Harriet; and his four children, Pam, Jed, Pete and Nikki.

- AP, supplemented with information from ESPN.com

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