Wendy Bergen, a former reporter with KCNC, the station now known as CBS4, died on Wednesday, April 26, following a brain aneurysm. Bergen's television career ended in scandal after she was convicted of staging a dogfight for a 1990 report called "Blood Sport." But according to KNUS talk-show host Peter Boyles, who was a friend of Bergen's for thirty years, she used this personal disaster to fuel a post-TV life devoted to helping others in trouble.
"In the aftermath, she started the process of redeeming herself," Boyles says. "And she did."
A 1979 graduate of the University of Utah, where she majored in theater arts, Bergen subsequently entered the TV news game in Denver and became a star for showy reports such as one about homelessness that found her living on the streets for several weeks; the 1989 presentation won her an Emmy. But the following year, Bergen went too far on "Blood Sport," which featured combat between pit bulls that she'd been a part of coordinating.
The results were a journalistic catastrophe (Bergen resigned after the truth was revealed), as well as a legal one. In August 1991, she was convicted of three felony counts: dog fighting, conspiracy to commit dog fighting and accessory to commit dog fighting. The following October, she was fined $20,000 and ordered to do community service at Step 13, now known as Step Denver.
On its Facebook page, the organization, founded by the late Bob Coté, describes its approach like so: "Step Denver provides a highly-structured residential program that utilizes a 'tough love' approach designed to help men develop the skills and discipline necessary to overcome their addiction and return to productive lives."
A photo from the Step Denver Facebook page.
Step 13 also helped rehabilitate Bergen. "Bob put her in charge of vehicles, where people would contribute cars and boats and motorcycles to Step 13, and they'd refurbish them and sell them — and people would receive greater amounts of money in tax deductions," Boyles notes. "Wendy ran that program and ran it well. Then she became a boardmember — and when Bob passed away, she became very powerful on the board. She was a great fundraiser and a great woman."
Her work with vehicles at Step 13 led to her own business wholesaling cars, Boyles adds — "and she was a world-class athlete. She was a bike rider, a runner and a tremendous skier. I skied with her almost every Friday."
Given her excellent physical condition, the circumstances that led to her death came as a surprise to Boyles. "She had been running the stairs at Red Rocks at lunch with some of her friends and she collapsed," he reveals. "At first they thought she'd had a heart attack, and they took her to St. Joe's. And there, the doctors said, 'No, it was a brain aneurysm.'" She was taken off life support on the 26th.
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Over the years, Boyles frequently asked Bergen to come on his radio show, but she regularly turned him down; her appearance after the death of Coté in 2013 was a rare exception. "She had been in the spotlight and it hadn't worked out for her, so she chose a private life," he points out.
Among the ironies of Bergen's fall from TV grace was the fact that "she loved dogs," Boyles says. "She had three or four of them. And no dogs got hurt in those fights. But after that happened, she did so much great public service. She redeemed herself."
Services for Bergen are pending.