Colon Cancer Claims Veteran Journalist Leroy Sievers
Television Giant Led "Nightline," Brought Blunt Style to Cancer Fight in Popular Blog
Aug. 16, 2008
Leroy Sievers, a veteran broadcast journalist, former executive producer of ABC News' "Nightline" and the author of a popular and candid daily blog about his battle with cancer, "My Cancer," has died at age 53.
Sievers was an award-winning television producer who reported from nearly every major war and natural disaster in his nearly three decades in the business.
Heart of 'Nightline'
He was the executive producer of "Nightline" from 2000-2005, embedding with Ted Koppel with the Army's Third Infantry Division during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Sievers felt strongly about reporting on the work and sacrifice of American servicemen and women. It was Sievers who proposed that "Nightline" devote the entire program to reading the names of the men and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan on Memorial Day weekend in 2004, a program simply titled "The Fallen," that generated controversy and even boycott during those early months of the war.
Sievers Brought Cancer Battle Public
But despite his many accomplishments as a television producer, it was Sievers' writing about his battle with colon cancer that many of his colleagues and friends believe is his greatest legacy.
When his colorectal cancer, first diagnosed in 2001, returned with a terminal diagnosis in late 2005, Sievers began writing about the experience. In a daily blog published on npr.org, weekly podcasts and occassional radio commentaries on NPR's "Morning Edition," Sievers spoke wth startling honesty about living with a cancer that he knew would one day take his life.
But with the strength and stubborness that were his hallmark as a journalist, Sievers defied the medical odds.
First told by doctors he may have only six months to live, Sievers endured a battery of often painful and experimental treatments and procedures, including two brain surgeries, three lengthy back surgeries, multiple rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and radiofrequency ablation.
Each of Sievers' blog entries began with a simple statement of purpose, "After that day, your life is never the same. 'That day' is the day the doctor tells you, 'You have cancer.' Every one of us knows someone who's had to face that news. It's scary, it's sad. But it's still life, and it's a life worth living."
Leroy Sievers Cancer Blog Sheds Light on Life
Sievers' blog quickly generated a virtual community of fellow patients, caregivers and, ultimately, friends, most of whom Sievers never met.
When he blogged earlier this summer about the devastating news that the cancer had spread widely to multiple organs, nearly 400 readers posted messages of support to Sievers in the next 24 hours.
And Friday, when his wife, journalist Laurie Singer, wrote the blog for Sievers, indicating the final hours of his battle with cancer were near, the posts in response from the virtual community were intensely personal:
"His grace and humor in the face of this cancer has been an inspiration to me," wrote one.
" He changed my life and my outlook that first day I heard him on NPR. I have been here ever since," wrote another.
Cancer patients Lance Armstrong and Elizabeth Edwards joined Sievers in a live "town meeting," at Discovery headquarters in Maryland, where the audience was filled with doctors, nurses and many people living with cancer. Just last month, the program was nominated for an Emmy award.
Before Sievers came to ABC News in 1991, he spent nine years at CBS News, where he served as Los Angeles bureau chief and as a producer in the Miami and New York bureaus. From 1978 to 1982, he was an assignment editor for KTVU-TV in Oakland, Calif.
During his years at ABC and CBS, Sievers covered more than a dozen wars, including conflicts in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Kosovo, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Rwanda and the Middle East.
But Sievers' work was not limited to war zones.
He produced broadcasts on the British handover of Hong Kong, the investigation and impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, Hurricane Andrew in Miami and Hurricane Mitch in Honduras, the bombing in Oklahoma City, the siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, and the riots in Los Angeles.
He was especially proud of being part of the team that, in 1996, inaugurated "America in Black and White," Nightline's" series on race relations in America.
Sievers won 12 national news Emmys, two George Foster Peabody Awards, and two Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Awards.
ABCNews President David Westin said of Sievers, "Leroy loomed large -- both figuratively and literally -- at ABC News and in his profession overall. But as large a figure as he cut, it was the size of his heart that made the greatest difference."
After leaving "Nightline," Sievers was a guest lecturer at the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Southern California, and traveled to Africa for Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group. After years of covering major disastsers, when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, Sievers found himself unable to simply watch the events unfold on television. So he volunteered with the Red Cross and spent weeks delivering food and aid in Louisiana.
Cancer Battle Comes to an End
Sievers grew up outside Los Angeles, where he was a competitive student athlete in wrestling and volleyball.
His 6'5'' build made him an intimidating physical presence, a quality that served him well in any number of dangerous and tense situations covering wars. But his booming belly laugh was his calling card in every newsroom in which he worked.
Sievers went east to attend Princeton, but ultimately chose to return to the West Coast and complete his undergraduate studies at Berkeley.
At Cal, he was bitten by the journalism bug while working at the college radio station.
Sievers and his wife, NBC News producer Laurie Singer, spent more than 20 years together, each traveling the globe to cover the news -- and returning again and again to their favorite vacation spots in Hawaii.
Despite the success of the blog, the satisfaction of the virtual community it created and the genuine friendships he made with his doctors and nurses at Johns Hopkins where he was treated, Sievers kept his characteristically blunt point of view on display at his home.
For months he kept an extra large T-shirt draped over a chair in his home, for all visitors to see. It says, simply: Cancer Sucks.
Leroy Sievers' family has asked that any contributions in his memory be made to:
The Leroy Sievers Memorial Fund
Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center
Patient and Family Services
100 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21201