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Remembering Les Shapiro: Friend Pays Tribute to Denver TV Legend

Les Shapiro during his early days on Denver TV.
Les Shapiro during his early days on Denver TV. Courtesy of Les Shapiro
On January 29, following a years-long battle with lung cancer, Denver sports-media legend Les Shapiro died at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona, in the presence of his beloved wife, Paula, and sons Jessie and Cary. This sad news caused the number of tributes from peers and fans that had begun arriving several days earlier, when the family announced that Shapiro had entered hospice care, to multiply exponentially.

Among those who feel the loss intensely is Chris Fuselier, owner of the Blake Street Tavern, who considered Shapiro his best friend. Reached at the venue on January 30 during the Los Angeles Rams-San Francisco 49ers playoff game, a contest that Shapiro would most assuredly have been watching, Fuselier was still processing Shapiro's passing even as he celebrated a life well lived.

"Les truly was an outlier," Fuselier said. "He was someone who stood out in the sense that he was so willing to offer advice and mentor people, whether they were in the sports-media world or whatever. He did it unsolicited, asking nothing in return. And I know that for me, personally, he made me a better human."

Shapiro is best known for the fifteen years he spent as the main sports anchor on CBS4 Denver, which aired an extended salute to him. His other Denver-area gigs included runs at Fox31, ESPN Radio Denver and Mile High Sports Radio, where he was working when he and Fuselier first connected.

"Back in 2008, I think, I sponsored a radio show on Mile High Sports Radio," Fuselier recalls. Former Denver Post columnist Jim Armstrong "was one of the hosts, and his cohost was Tim Neverett, who left Denver to become one of the broadcasters for the Pittsburgh Pirates. And Jimmy said, 'I've got a great guy for us: Les Shapiro'  And Les was great. It was an incredible show, and he was an incredible person. He was truly my best friend for at least the last ten years."

Many sports broadcasters lose their love of athletic competitions over the course of their careers; after all, sports is work to them. But Fuselier stressed that Shapiro's passion for sports, and especially NFL football, never waned: "He didn't gamble, but every week, he'd send me his picks, and he was a terrific handicapper. I'd always say, 'What do I owe you? What's your commission?' And he'd say, 'Just our friendship.'"

Back in 2018, Shapiro was diagnosed with lung cancer, which was "crazy," Fusilier said. "He was very physically active. He had a second home in Scottsdale, and he loved hiking down there. But after a couple of hikes, he passed out, and they couldn't figure out what was wrong. So they did some tests and figured out he had stage 4 lung cancer, which was a shock to all of us, because Les never smoked a cigarette in his life."

Doctors prescribed what Fuselier described as a "chemo pill that worked great for the first three years. He was pretty active, and he stayed active. You'd never know this guy had stage 4 cancer. But we always knew the pill wouldn't work forever — that its efficacy would run out. And Les started having difficulties about seven or eight months ago. He was hospitalized on a trip to Chicago [his hometown] for, geez, six weeks or something like that. He was having issues with his lungs — they would have to pull gunk out literally by the liter — so they had to take him off the chemo pill. There was this battle between the oncologists and the pulmonary people. And when he finally got well enough to go back home, he couldn't even travel on a medical plane. He had to go from Chicago to Phoenix on a train."
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Les Shapiro interviewing Denver Broncos legend Steve Atwater at Super Bowl XXXII.
Courtesy of Les Shapiro.
After that, "his quality of life really declined," Fuselier said. "He was constantly on oxygen, and they put him on standard chemo, where he'd have to sit there for four or five hours every week for three weeks and then take a week off. But he kept declining."

Fuselier traveled to Scottsdale in December and went out to dinner with Shapiro — and he was in such bad shape that he had to be carried out of the eatery. "He thought, 'Is this the last time I'm going to be able to go to a restaurant?' And it was," Fuselier recalled.

Fuselier traveled to Arizona again earlier this month, bringing Shapiro some of his favorite Chicago food, including deep-dish pizza from Lou Malnati's. The treat cheered up Shapiro, and the friends had a good day. "I never would have guessed that he'd be gone two weeks later," he admitted.

When Shapiro's family announced the move to hospice on his Facebook page, they encouraged folks to share their thoughts — and many did just that. "It was really awesome to see the outpouring of love for Les, and for him to be lucid and able to hear those thoughts, hear about those posts on Facebook and Twitter," Fuselier said. "I think too often death happens suddenly, and when people say great things, the person doesn't get to hear them. I'm really thrilled that Les got to hear the kind words that everybody said about him before he passed."

Here's how Shapiro's family broke the news on January 29: "Everyone — Les passed away this afternoon. It could not have gone much better. He was at home, and the immediately family was all there. 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. Thank you all. We'll likely hold Shiva for a couple of days this week in Arizona, and will hold small gatherings in Denver and Chicago in the coming months."

This morning, Fuselier will be flying to Arizona along with broadcasters Vic Lombardi and Eric Goodman to sit shiva with the Shapiros. He also confirms that a celebration of Shapiro's life will be held from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 6 at the Blake Street Tavern, even though he could never persuade Shapiro to watch games there.

"I'd say, 'We've got all these TVs,'" Fuselier recalled, "and he'd say, 'No, I get too distracted. I've got to be by myself.' And he'd stay home and watch the games on the Red Zone. But the one exception would be if [former Denver Broncos head coach] Mike Shanahan was in town. Mike had the most unbelievable man cave, and he'd tell Les, 'You can come over, but you've got to stop by Shanahan's and pick up some steak, some ribs, some chicken, whatever.' That was Les's job: He had to pick up the food. But it was so exciting for Les to be there with Mike and hear him analyze the games. They'd always watch the Broncos games and the 49ers games, because Mike's son Kyle is the coach."

The 49ers fell short against the Rams last night, losing 20-17. But Shapiro would have loved seeing every play.

This post has been updated to include the date for a celebration of Les Shapiro's life at the Blake Street Tavern.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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