Olympic Filmmaker Bud Greenspan Dies at 84
The documentarian chronicled the inspirational stories of hundreds of athletes over six decades.
Filmmaker Bud Greenspan, whose inspirational portraits of Olympic athletes became a trademark of the Games, died Saturday at his home in New York from complications of Parkinson's disease. He was 84.
Greenspan documented the stories of hundreds of Olympians for more than six decades. Over the years, he never lost focus on the most inspirational stories of athletes, even as controversies over politics, performance-enhancing drugs and commercialism increasingly vied for attention.
"Bud was a storyteller first and foremost," his companion Nancy Beffa told the Associated Press. "He never lost his sense of wonder and he never wavered in the stories he wanted to tell, nor how he told them. No schmalzy music, no fog machines, none of that. He wanted to show why athletes endured what they did and how they accomplished what so few people ever do."
In an interview with ESPN.com nearly a decade ago, Greenspan admitted he took a different approach than most of his colleagues.
"I spend my time on about the 99% of what's good about the Olympics and most people spend 100% of their time on the one% that's negative," he said. "I've been criticized for seeing things through rose-colored glasses, but the percentages are with me."
Greenspan received lifetime achievement awards from the DGA and the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences as well as a Peabody and the Olympic Order award.
His best-known work was The Olympiad, the culmination of 10 years of research, more than 3 million feet of rare, archival film, hundreds of interviews and visits to more than 30 nations. The 10-part series he produced was aired in more than 80 countries.
As a 21-year-old radio reporter, Greenspan filed his first Olympic story from a phone booth at Wembley Stadium at the 1948 London Games and attended nearly every Summer and Winter Games that followed. His most recent work, about the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, is scheduled for release in the coming weeks.
Greenspan was an opera and history buff and got his first break while working as an extra at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. There, he met an aspiring baritone named John Davis, who was not only a singer but also the U.S. Olympic weightlifting gold medalist from the London Games.
Greenspan wrote a story about Davis, then followed him to Helsinki, where Davis won a second gold and subsequently became the subject of Greenspan's first film, The Strongest Man in the World. He made the short feature with a loan from his father and used his brother, David Greenspan, as narrator. Their partnership continued for more than four decades.
"Greenspan's lifetime of work was to the Olympic Games and the athletes what John Ford's cinema was to the American West," former U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Mike Moran said. "He had no peer in his craft, and he was the artist that thousands of Olympic athletes dreamed of when they thought of how their stories might be told one day."
Greenspan's career took off with a film he made in 1964 about Olympian Jesse Owens' returning to the scene of his gold-medal achievements in Berlin some 30 years earlier. But he never lost his love for the smallest victories as well, citing a last-place finish by Tanzanian marathoner John Stephen Ahkwari at Mexico City in 1968 as his favorite Olympic moment.
Scott Blackmun, the USOC's CEO, praised Greenspan for connecting the Games to "everyday people in ways the founders of the Games couldn't have imagined."
Born Joseph Greenspan, the native New Yorker also wrote books, produced nearly 20 spoken-word albums and was an avid tennis player into his 70s. He struggled with Parkinson's the last few years but refused to let it curtail his work and traveling.
The family has requested that any donations be made to a scholarship in his name administered by the USOC at the University of Southern California film school.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.