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by Lisa Albergo reporting from AFANA from Chicago

Just as Round 23 was getting underway - literally - veteran commentator Drew Morphett passed away at the age of 69. Reportedly he was at home watching the Friday night game between the Bulldogs and Hawks. He was found by his wife Karen. .No cause of death was reported but it is believes he suffered a heart attack. International fans - including Americans - who watched the little coverage available in the 1980's and 1990's would remember his commentary on Australia's Channel Seven. He started his career on Sydney. where he grew up, as a cadet in 1966. He didn't learn about footy until he moved to Perth where he was mentored by former Carlton champion Ern Henfry, who was working for the ABC. Henfry taught Morphett the nuances of the game, and Morphett was soon on his way to becoming one of Australian sport's best-known voices.He called numerous other sports including cricket, basketball, golf and the Olympics. He eventually moved to Melbourne in 1977 where he worked as a journalist for the ABC sports department.

He went on to host ABC's The Winners in the 1980;s and again in recent times when Fox Footy brought the show back as The Winners Rebooted. In an interview in 2016, Morphett recalled producing The Winners, saying the stories were not confined to on field happenings. As well as hosting The Winners, Morphett spent 30 years calling matches for ABC and Channel Seven. He only recently returned to broadcasting part tme and was scheduled to call the Round 23 match between Essendon and Fremantle.

Drew and his wife Karen also had an interest in horses. Not only did they own several successful race horses, they also owned a grazing and "rehabilitation" farm which is considered one of the best in Victoria. Many highly respected trainers availed themselves of the farm's services.

The tributes and stories flowed when the news broke. Journalist and long time friend Tim Lane described Morphett as the life of the party and recalled how he, on his 60th birthday party, joined popular Australian singer Russell Morris on stage and sang a song with him. As Lane put it, "He could sing quite well ... if he couldn't do it at his own birthday party, when could he do it?"

Fellow broadcaster Sandy Roberts, also a veteran of the 1980's and 1990's and still calling games, said, "To become the broadcaster that he did was an absolute credit to him."

Long-time colleague Robert Walls and former Carlton champion and coach, attended the 1987 30th anniversary premiership function during Round 22. Morphett was also in attendance. According to Walls, Morphett was in good spirits and "... very supportive, loved his sport and loved mixing with sporting people. It’s far too young to see him go. This is the time where the cream should have been on the top of the cake and he should have been enjoying life because he’d already done the hard yards"

Greg Miles, one of Australia's finest race broadcasters, "He was a great friend and work colleague ... He will be terribly missed. Drew was always ... A carefree, happy guy. Always quick with a joke and always the life of the party. His sports broadcasts were always laced with a boyish enthusiasm that was infectious. A wonderful voice that was so easy to listen to. A truly great communicator both on radio and television." Miles also said that one of Morphett's favorite sayings was "Well done, son."

Broadcaster Anthony Hudson said Morphett, complete with his "beautiful voice", had the ability to convey the excitement of a game without the need for hyperbole. Morphett's style was the belief that sometimes the less said the better and he could still capture the moment and let the sounds of the crowd and the names of the players paint the picture, "We try and fill up every second - he would use the pause ... and you would panic that he had stopped speaking but that was his style,"

Both Tim Lane and former Essendon great Matthew Lloyd can both give testament to Morphett's willingness to help young talent coming into broadcasting. Lane said Morphett gave his confidence soon after Lane came to the ABC from Tasmania. Lloyd recounted how Morphett gave him his first break at the ABC shortly after he had retired from playing. Lloyd said he was nervous, but refuted his fellow commentators who were negative regarding then Cat Travis Varcoe (now with Collingwood) who had not gotten near the ball. Lloyd told them Varcoe had been working very hard and would soon break loose to do something. Sure enough, a few minutes later, Varcoe got the ball and kicked a goal on the run. Lloyd said, Drew turned around, big smile on his face, and gave me a high five to say well done and welcome to the media."

A few Twitter responses:

An absolute gentleman and as good as there was at his craft. Whether it was calling AFL or cricket, Drew Morphett always captured the moment - Matthew Lloyd

Terribly sad way to start the weekend with the passing of @drewmorphett A great broadcaster, early mentor and wonderful person #RIPDrew - Wayne Schwass

Very sad news. An absolute gentleman and one of the voices of my sports mad childhood. #RIPDrew - Cameron Ling

I feel so sad with the passing of Drew Morphett. A wonderful and generous broadcaster. I loved working with him. RIP - Kevin Bartlett
Drew Morphett was one of the greats. Growing up his voice was so intrinsically linked to footy. Thoughts with family. Sad day for football - Xavier Campbell (Essendon CEO)

He received an Order of Australia Medal in 2014 for his contribution to broadcasting.


Article last changed on Wednesday, August 30, 2017 - 12:07 PM EDT

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