Obituary: Bill Currie / 'Mouth of the South' sports commentator here in 1970s
Dressed in sports jackets as loud as a Three Rivers Stadium crowd with ties as wide as the Ohio River, Bill Currie would pin a boutonniere into his lapel and, in a voice that dripped corn pone, mix Scripture with Shakespeare in sports commentaries that were folksy, rambling, irreverent and laced with color and the off-color, all at the same time.
"He was eclectic," said Margaret Currie Granger, the youngest of his three children. "He made sports interesting for people who didn't follow sports. He was a nut. He was crazy. He was outrageous. He always was a character and was a character until the day he died. He had a very full life, and I'm going to miss him very much."
Mr. Currie had suffered a series of strokes in recent years. He died of a brain hemorrhage late Monday at St. Peter's Hospital in Yelm, Wash., where he had lived with his daughter. He was 85.
A journalist and a sports announcer, he was a staple at KDKA-TV during the sports glory days of the 1970s after he was the play-by-play announcer for University of North Carolina sports.
To those who loved his idiosyncrasies, he was Sweet Ol' Bill. To those who despised him in the way fans loathed Howard Cosell, he was simply known by the initials, S.O.B. But he had a Technicolor personality and rather enjoyed getting a rise out of people, which helps explain why his office was once adorned with a poster-size photo of him lying in a coffin.
"He didn't care if people talked about him in a good way or a bad way, as long as they were talking and kept tuning in," said his daughter. "He didn't start out doing sports. He just happened to be good at it."
In Pittsburgh, where Frenchy Fuqua of the Steelers wore outrageous platform shoes and Dock Ellis of the Pirates wore hair curlers under his baseball cap, Mr. Currie found his niche. Some viewers tuned in just to see what combination of plaid jackets and polka dot ties he had donned.
"The thing I remember most about him was that he was a lot of fun," said Joe Gordon, the Steelers' longtime public relations man. "He kept sports in perspective. He kept it in the toy department and never thought of it as World War III. He was creative, entertaining and obviously very unique. He was one of a kind."
A native of High Point, N.C., Mr. Currie began his career as a reporter for The High Point Enterprise and later at the Salisbury Post. He later went into broadcasting and developed a what-will-he-say-next style that earned him the nickname "Mouth of the South." But he wasn't all schtick. He was also named North Carolina Sportscaster of the Year eight times.
Frank Deford wrote about him in Sports Illustrated twice. One North Carolina columnist dubbed him "The Reverend" because "he could preach you a hellfire and damnation sermon or sing you a hymn with an angelic look on his face, a tremor in his voice and a drink in his hand."
Around 1976, Mr. Currie left -- briefly -- for a stint in the Philadelphia market, and he was essentially run out of town by irate viewers who chafed at his style.
"That was a disaster," said his daughter. "The greatest time of his life was in Pittsburgh."
Mr. Currie returned here and continued sports commentary until 1990, mixing in talk about his divorce, face lifts, his hairpiece and his experiences with psychotherapy. He also ran a broadcast school from 1981 to 1988.
In addition to Margaret, he is survived by a son, Robert, of Wimberley, Texas; a daughter, Susan of North Carolina; and four grandchildren.
Mr. Currie donated his body to science at the University of Washington. The family is planning a memorial service to celebrate his life.
First Published February 13, 2008 12:00 am