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Longtime A's radio voice Bill King dies at 78
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Longtime Oakland Athletics radio voice Bill King, whose signature call of "Holy Toledo!" was a household phrase for decades in the Bay Area, died early Tuesday from complications following hip surgery. He was 78.
The A's said King died at a hospital in nearby San Leandro, three days after undergoing surgery for an injury sustained earlier this year.
"It's a devastating thing," said Ken Korach, King's partner in the booth the past 10 seasons. "It's almost hard to believe. It's pretty sad. He just meant so much -- a true icon, a renaissance man, a one-in-a-million kind of a character, and I mean that in a positive way. He was one of a kind."
At spring training in March, King tripped over some luggage in his Phoenix hotel room and had been struggling to get around all season -- missing a number of road games and relying on crutches and later a cane.
But he reported about the A's with the same fervor he demonstrated for years covering not only the A's, but other pro sports teams in Northern California. He joined the A's broadcast staff in 1981.
"We are deeply saddened by Bill's passing," A's president Michael Crowley said. "He was arguably the most recognizable voice in the history of Bay Area broadcasting. One would be hard-pressed to find an announcer who served as the lead play-by-play voice for three major sports franchises for as long as Bill."
His death came as a shock to the sports community, which considered King with his carefully groomed curled-up mustache as much a ballpark staple as the players and the popcorn.
King, a native of Bloomington, Ill., had surgery Friday and all indications were that he would recover.
"He came through the surgery fine," Korach said. "I got an e-mail from his daughter Friday night.
"I think he was just a member of the family for almost 50 years in the Bay Area. He was the greatest sportscaster I ever heard. He brought an immense amount of passion and dedication to every broadcast and touched so many people. They remember certain times in their lives because of him. For over 50 years, he was a constant in people's lives," Korach said.
On road trips, King often could be seen studying Russian history and literature. He also loved ballet and jazz. King always carried a book, and told longtime Bay Area sports writer Ron Bergman to always bring along something to read in case flights were delayed.
"He was an interesting guy," said Bergman, a sports writer in the Bay Area since 1962. "He told me once, off the record, that he was very critical of referees because he didn't like authority figures. He once referred to the NBA commissioner, Walter Kennedy, on the record 'as the heart and soul of protoplasm.'"
King was the lead radio broadcaster for the Golden State Warriors and Oakland Raiders and worked for a time on the San Francisco Giants' broadcast team.
King was stationed on the island of Guam at the end of World War II when he began his broadcasting career with the Armed Forces Radio Network.
"He wanted to be a ballplayer but said 'I would have been a Double-A or Triple-A ballplayer at best,'" Bergman recalled King saying.
King is preceded in death by his wife, Nancy Stephens. His stepdaughter, Kathleen Lowenthal, drove approximately 80 miles round trip to pick up King from his home in Sausalito and deliver him to the Oakland Coliseum for games this season, then drive him home afterward.
King also is survived by stepson, John Stephens, of Sausalito and grandchildren, Julia and John Lowenthal.
Memorial services were pending.
This is devastating. I still can't believe it. Bill King was a part of my family. He was one of a kind. He brought the vast and wonderous world of baseball into my life, and it will always be strange listening to my beloved A's and not hearing his voice. They really broke the mold with him and he will truly be missed. RIP Bill.