Les Shapiro, longtime Colorado sports broadcaster, dies at 65

Les Shapiro

Emcees Lauren Whitney and Les Shapiro at the NightShine Gala, hosted by the Denver Health Foundation, at the Hyatt Regency Denver at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. Steve Peterson, Special to The Denver Post

This story first ran in the Denver Post.

Les Shapiro, a pillar of the Colorado sports broadcasting community for more than three decades, has died.

Shapiro passed away Saturday afternoon in Scottsdale, Ariz., after a five-year battle with lung cancer. Shapiro, who was committed to a rigorous fitness routine much of his life, never smoked. He was 65.

“He was at home, and the immediately family was all there,” a family statement on Shapiro’s Facebook profile read. “We spent the last four days with him, joking around, telling stories, and reading him the messages you all sent. We can’t imagine someone feeling more loved at the end of life than Les did.”

Shapiro was a veteran sports television anchor and producer known for his bulldog reporting, vast knowledge, contacts throughout the sports community, and unflinching opinions. He worked for Denver’s KCNC-4 from 1984 to 1999 and then covered sports at FOX 31 News. He later became a sports talk show host at a number of Denver radio stations, including the local ESPN affiliate and Mile High Sports.

“Les and I ended up being very good friends,” former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. “Everyone once in a while, he would say, ‘Hey can I come over to your house and watch a game? I’d like to know more.’ So we would watch football games together. The thing about Les is that he always wanted to learn, about sports in general.

“He wanted to know more about football, but I was always fascinated by how much he loved baseball and how much he loved to talk about it.”

Shapiro was a mentor for a number of Colorado broadcasters and journalists, including Vic Lombardi, currently a TV and radio host for Altitude Sports.

“In 1988, I was a sophomore in college at Notre Dame and I applied for an internship at Channel 4,” Lombardi recalled. “Les was the weekend anchor at the time and I was assigned to work with Les.

“At first I was very intimidated by him because I grew up watching him. He was very hard, very challenging and very demanding. But he was a great man and he was fundamental to my getting into the business.”

“It could be hard to keep up with Les because he was so detailed and so thorough,” Lombardi said. “From a journalistic side, he taught me the art of networking and sourcing. That’s become sort of a lost art in television, but he would be working the phones every night, hunting news. I don’t think there was anybody better than Les when it came to that.”

 

Beginning in April 2020, Lombardi, a survivor of prostate cancer, teamed up with Shapiro for a podcast called “We Are Unstoppable,” which was billed as “sharing inspirational stories from great athletes, celebrities, and the most brilliant minds in medicine on how to beat adversity to win in life.”

Dave Logan, one of the most recognized sports figures in Colorado history, said he lost a dear friend when Shapiro passed away.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Logan, the longtime play-by-play man for the Broncos on KOA Radio.

After Logan’s nine-year career as an NFL wide receiver, and before he became a 10-time state champion high school football coach, he earned his broadcasting stripes alongside Ron Zappolo and Shapiro at Channel 4, working as a freelance contributor to the station’s coverage of CU athletics. Logan and Shapiro called a number of Buffs football games together for Channel 4, including CU’s victory in the infamous “fifth-down game” at Columbia, Mo., in 1990.

“Les and I would spend a lot of time in various Big Eight cities, making those long drives from the airport to the various universities,” Logan said. “You really get to know each other doing that. We have always been great, great friends.”

Logan described Shapiro as “incredibly hard-working, very driven, really competitive and somebody who always wanted to beat everybody to the story. Les was a really good person and very loyal. He was very gregarious and was able to meet people and friends as quickly as anybody I’ve even been around. And, he had a wicked sense of humor.”

Shapiro also had strong opinions and voiced them often, on the radio and social media. He could be critical, but as Logan noted, “He was sort of an old-school journalist who had a lot of relationships and knew things. So he had a foundation for a lot of his opinions.”

Mile High Sports’ Eric Goodman worked as Shapiro’s radio partner from 2015 until February 2020 when Shapiro and his wife, Paula, relocated to Scottsdale.

“We have a lot of hot-take guys on the air in sports radio, but Les’ opinions were well thought out,” Goodman said. “He was a very serious sports guy and I would laugh when he would say, ‘Let’s have fun today.’ He came to understand the radio landscape better. To have fun. He evolved and learned to go with that.”

Shapiro was born in Skokie, Ill., and grew up in Wilmette, a suburb north of Chicago. He carried his love of Chicago to Colorado and Arizona and often took media colleagues to Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria (for a deep-dish Chicago pie) in North Scottsdale during Rockies spring training.

Shapiro graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in mass communications. He started his career as a news writer/producer for KPNX-TV in Phoenix, then worked as a sports anchor for WEEK-TV in Peoria, Ill., before coming to Denver.

In addition to his broadcasting career, Shapiro was active in the Denver charity scene. He was the host or master of ceremonies at numerous events, including those sponsored by Denver Health, The Lupus Foundation, Make-A-Wish Foundation and National Jewish Hospital.

Les met Paula in high school and they were married for 38 years. They had two sons. Jessie, 35, lives in Los Angeles and writes music. Cary, 33, lives in Scottsdale and works for the Ford Motor Company.

“The thing that I liked most about Les was that he was such a good family man,” Shanahan said. “You can tell, once somebody is that passionate about their family, usually they are pretty good people. That was Les.”

In the statement posted on Shapiro’s Facebook profile, the family said they will likely hold a Shiva in Arizona this week and gatherings in Denver and Chicago in the coming months.

Les Shapiro

Emcees Lauren Whitney and Les Shapiro at the NightShine Gala, hosted by the Denver Health Foundation, at the Hyatt Regency Denver at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. Steve Peterson, Special to The Denver Post

Shapiro was a veteran sports television anchor and producer known for his bulldog reporting, vast knowledge, contacts throughout the sports community, and unflinching opinions.

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