Broadcaster Phillip Leishman dies at 61

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Phillip Leishman with his wife Michelle in January, 2013. Photo / Facebook
Phillip Leishman with his wife Michelle in January, 2013. Photo / Facebook

Veteran sports broadcaster Phillip Leishman has died.

The 61-year-old, who had surgery on a brain tumour last year, became sick again last week and slipped into a coma on Sunday night.

His family and friends were by his side as he died overnight.

His brother Mark Leishman earlier said the problems were first noticed in February last year.

A tumour was removed in March and family had hoped for a recovery.

"Phil was down at a family reunion in Central Otago and he noticed his driving was a bit strange. He was doing a commentary for the NZ Women's Open. He was thoroughly professional of course, but he was struggling. He couldn't get the words out quite right.

"He went to the ophthalmologist and they discovered something there. That's when it all started."

He said Phillip was "so chuffed" to get a text from Lydia Ko's coach last week with thanks for giving her confidence behind the microphone and in front of cameras.

"He had a big smile on his face when he read that."

Phillip Leishman: A life and times

Longtime friend and race caller Des Coppins was Phillip's best man.

"I look at Phillip as my mentor, he gave me my start."

Coppins said he had talked to his old mate a few days ago.

Coppins, who was best man at the Leishmans' wedding, said he had received dozens of messages from people around the country.

"We work [together] and we were and we are close mates. We'll be there forever. He's almost a brother - in fact he's a brother - that's the way I see Phillip."

Fellow sports broadcaster and close friend Keith Quinn said Leishman had a deep sports knowledge.

"He started off in radio and that spread over to television ... and he fronted a lot of programmes," he told radio New Zealand.

"He gained his wide fame, if you like, because of his knowledge of all sports."

In the 90s, Leishman hosted 1250 episodes of TVNZ's Wheel of Fortune, alongside Lana Coc-Kroft and was host when boxer David Tua famously appeared to ask for the letter "O for awesome".

Quinn said the move to the show was a "critical decision".

"He was very proud of it - he made no discrimination between working for a game show, working on a sports show and of course later in his career he became associated, after a long time with horse racing, with golf."

Quinn said Leishman's career was "very wide indeed".

Leishman was a feature of New Zealand broadcasting for more than four decades.

He started his career in radio in 1970 and began working in television a year later when he went to Dunedin as a relieving sports officer, according to NZ On Screen.

He then moved to the nightly network bulletin as sports news presenter, appearing alongside the big names of TV news broadcasting at the time, including Dougal Stevenson, Bill Toft, Angela D'Audney, Jenny Goodwin and Richard Long.

In 1975 Mr Leishman hosted the New Zealand Games and began his long association with horse racing, which included hosting the horse programme Turf Talk until 1979.

In 1976 he covered the Montreal Olympics and established himself as host of the Olympic and Commonwealth Games, a role which continued until the 1998 Olympics in Kuala Lumpur.

In 1997 Leishman formed a new company called Uplink, now known as Sportinc. He was the executive producer, company director and fronted the company's popular Golf Show.

Over the years he also covered yachting, tennis, league and rugby.

Leishman also hosted one-off entertainment specials including the Halberg Awards and the last ever televised Miss Zealand Show.

He hosted the New Zealand Cricket Awards from 2008 to 2010.

Breakfast present, Peter Williams, paid tribute to his friend and colleague on air this morning.

Williams said he got his break in the industry in 1979, filling a sports reporter vacancy left when Leishman went on his OE in 1979. Since then he has worked with him on screen for a number of Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games and golf tournaments.

"There was always an element of show business about Phil," Williams said on Breakfast.

"He was a fabulous guy, always friendly. What you got on air is what you get off air, which is a sign of a great guy."

Off screen, Mr Leishman was involved with children's charity Variety since its inception in 1989.

In 2011 he was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to broadcasting and the community.

Fellow broadcasters also paid tribute to Leishman on social media.

"RIP Phillip Leishman. You are a gentleman and an inspiration. Saturday mornings in the 70`s with Glyn Tucker are a treasured memory," rugby commentator Hamish McKay wrote on Twitter.

"Very sad news this morning with the death of Phil Leishman overnight," Breakfast host Rawdon Christie wrote.

He leaves his wife Michelle and three children - Harry, 20, India, 17, and Lily, 15.

Leishman would be honoured in the first round of the NZ PGA Championship in Queenstown, which starts on March 28.

Players and officials at the PGA Tour of Australasia event would wear black ribbons as a mark of respect for the popular broadcaster.

NZ PGA Championship Tournament director Michael Glading said it was heartbreaking to think Leishman would not be seen on New Zealand television again.

"He's been an amazing champion of the game and the way he presents is the way he was - a brilliant person. I can't imagine how golf television in New Zealand will ever be the same."

"Phil's company produced a wonderful one hour show on our 2012 tournament and I'm sure the boys will do something even better this year in memory of Phil."

Many players also expressed their sadness at his passing.

Phil Tataurangi was among those who had fond memories of Leishman.

"I had the good fortune to spend a fair bit of time around Phil within golf and then outside of golf as well, dating back to doing Wheel of Fortune way back when!

"When you lose a friend and a colleague in the golf business it brings a lot of things back to reality and priorities realign themselves. A little slice of you kind of goes away as well when a good friend passes away."

Watch an interview of Phillip Leishman talking about his career, courtesy of New Zealand on Screen:

- APNZ with Newstalk ZB

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