Sports Broadcaster Merlin Olsen Succumbs to Rare Lung Cancer at 69
Merlin Olsen, who served as a television color commentator for both NBC and CBS and also played a small role in the development of the SkyCam system, passed away on March 11, 2010 at the age of 69 after a battle with mesothelioma, a cancer of the lung lining. He is survived by his wife, Susan, and three children.
Olsen was best known for teaming with Dick Enberg on NBC’s coverage of the AFC throughout the 1980s. He and Enberg also teamed for the Rose Bowl Game broadcast beginning with the 1980 Rose Bowl through the 1988 Rose Bowl. In 1990 and 1991, he moved to CBS Sports doing NFL games.
“God doesn’t create perfect men, but he came mighty close when he brought us Merlin Olsen,” said Enberg in a statement. “He was athletically GREAT and just as GOOD as a man. He personified the Greek ideal of a “sound mind in a sound body.”
Enberg says he was privileged to call his games as an All Pro, Hall of Famer-to-be Los Angeles Ram, and then to work at his side in the broadcast booth for 12 years.
“He was meticulous and thorough in his preparation, lessons he had learned as an all A student in high school and college,” added Enberg. “He was just as generous as a broadcaster as he was tough as a defensive tackle and I was privileged to be his TV colleague and his friend. I seriously doubt that I shall ever meet another that will measure up to his complete character. He was every part of a gentle giant.”
Olsen’s role in the development of SKYCAM occurred while he was speaking with STEADICAM inventor Garrett Brown on the set of “Little House on the Prarie,” a program on which Olsen had a recurring role. He also starred in his own program, “Father Murphy.”
“We were discussing how great it would be to be able to get a helicopter down close without the noise and multiple decapitations,” says Brown. The idea for Skycam was born and more than two decades later it remains the hottest toy for top-level sports productions.
“Little House” star Melissa Gilbert also reacted to his passing, posting via Twitter. “My heart go out to his dear family. He was one of the sweetest, kindest, men I have ever known. The personification of the Gentle Giant. Forever now, a guardian angel.”