Gary Cruz, a popular Denver sportscaster during a reported seventeen-year run that included parts of three decades, has died of cancer in Arizona at age 68. And while he's been off the Mile High City airwaves for more than a generation, he remains well remembered among many local viewers.
One example: A tweet to 9News's Kyle Clark last year reads in part, "I adore you Kyle! But Gary Cruz was a hottie!! As hip as an 8 year old girl could think a man could be...him and John Denver!"
Cruz started working in Denver TV in 1973 and continued through 1990, working at KMGH/Channel 7 and KUSA/Channel 9 during a period when his resemblance to actor Erik Estrada, best known for portraying Officer Francis (Frank) Llewelyn "Ponch" Poncherello on the TV show CHiPs, was considered a very good thing.
His handsomeness no doubt contributed to his hiring at KCAL in Los Angeles, where he worked from 1990 to 1997 before moving to KPHO in Phoenix. He delivered scores and highlights for the latter outlet from 1999 to 2009 before retiring from the daily TV grind and launching his own company, CruzWood Communications.
Then, in late November of last year, Cruz shared the following message on Facebook:
To my Facebook Peeps, I need to come clean. As many of you already know, I am in the fight of my life against Cancer. Over the last six weeks I've had biopsies, lung surgery and I'm currently undergoing radiation treatment (4 down 10 to go). I have cancer in my lungs that has found it's way to my brain. Radiation will hopefully cut this Cancer off at the brain. Following radiation I'll get Chemo or Immunotherapy or a combination of the two. The road is going to get much tougher but I'm ready to battle. I will be losing my hair in the next week or so. Picture me bald. This cannot be a PITY PARTY for my family and friends. I need all the positive vibes from everyone. I have unbelievable support and I'd love to be the guy that kicks Cancer's ass. I love you all.
Curt Sandoval, another former Denver TV personality now based in L.A. (he's on ABC7 there), reacted with memories of his own about Cruz: "The first audition tape I made some 3-decades ago, Gary Cruz was on it — tossing to a kid from Metro State to do sports. I was a rookie 22-year-old. I looked 12. The fact is — Cruzer was incredibly helpful in my early days teaching me what NOT to do — as much as good on-air, writing and ad-lib techniques. In the years since, he's been a POSITIVE VOICE in my life. I started my TV journey as an intern under Gary, and I'm not here today without his guidance!"
Sandoval added: "My Colorado friends will remember him from KUSA and KMGH. California/LA Market viewers will remember him at KCAL. Cruzer is the best! A guys-guy who ALWAYS looked at the glass half-full!
Gary is in a H-E-DOUBLE HOCKEY STICK fight against cancer!!! He could use your prayers and POSITIVE SUPPORT. The power of prayer is one of the greatest things we can do. I ask if you could please pray for Gary Cruz to beat cancer!"
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Despite such support, Cruz ultimately succumbed to the disease, as acknowledged by his son, Kevin Cruz, with this Facebook message: "At 3:58 AM we lost an incredible person, my father Gary Cruz. It is incredible how many people he met and held strong relationships through his years. As a Father he was the greatest. He was my best friend, brother, mentor, and a perfect Dad. I'm gonna miss him so much. It's peaceful that he is not fighting or hurting anymore. He truly loved all his friends and family and lived his life more than so many could dream about."
Among the local TV personalities to eulogize Cruz was 9News' Tom Green, who wrote, "Sad news — we lost an old friend.... When I first came to Colorado, I went straight to my new job, and when I walked into the Channel 9 sports office I was greeted by what would become that very familiar big smile of Gary Cruz. I was so lucky in my early career to get to work with, and learn from Cruzer, Mike Nolan, and so many more. Gary showed me the ropes in Denver, taught me, scolded me...and was a friend. I think that Gary is to blame for my addiction to golf. I didn’t really play before I moved to Colorado, but he helped teach me the game. It was always nice to go somewhere with him...he was extremely popular, and seemed to know everybody. He loved his family very much, and was passionate about his work. He was a very special guy. I was lucky to know him, and Colorado was lucky to have him."
A celebration of Gary Cruz's life will be held from 5 to 7:30 p.m. March 17 at Gainey Ranch Golf Club in Scottsdale. Click for more details.