Dick Ebersol's passion for the Olympics began as a researcher in the 1960s and led him to help NBC lock up the U.S. TV rights through the 2012 Games.
Now the chairman of NBC Sports, Ebersol shapes the way millions of Americans watch the Olympics and influences the way the International Olympic Committee stages them.
"He's kind of 'Mr. Olympics,' there's no doubt about that," Fox Sports chairman David Hill said.
On Sunday, Ebersol and one of his sons survived a charter plane crash in Colorado that killed at least two people, Denver NBC affiliate KUSA-TV said in a statement. Rescue crews were searching for another son.
A consummate out-of-the-box thinker, Ebersol had a hand in all sorts of television experiments, in sports and entertainment, with success and not, from "Saturday Night Live" in the 1970s to the short-lived XFL in 2001.
"He is very innovative," Hill said. "He's obviously a great leader and, from my perspective, a very worthy competitor."
Ebersol is fond of noting that he dropped out of Yale University at 19 to work as an ABC researcher at the Grenoble Olympics in 1968. That began his love affair with the multisport event. He was a protege of Roone Arledge and carried on his philosophy of presenting the Olympics via storytelling, rather than emphasizing results.
Developing strong ties with the IOC, Ebersol made himself and his network synonymous with the Olympics.
"The Olympics are not to us a sporting event, they're not about sports rights," Ebersol said in June, when NBC acquired the 2010 and 2012 Games in a $2.2 billion deal. "The Olympics are something really, really special. They are the only great family viewing experience left in all of American television.
"They're the only thing that puts Mom, Pop and the kids in front of the television set at the same time."
In 1995, NBC obtained the rights to five Olympics from 2000 to 2008 in a pair of deals worth $3.5 billion. Those negotiations took place in secret without other networks getting a chance to bid.
This summer's Athens Games dominated TV for 17 days, giving NBC ratings wins for every half-hour in prime time. An average of 24.6 million people watched each evening, a 14 percent increase over the 2000 Olympics.
"Dick is an inspiration, a leader. He's innovative, and outspoken at times," said Neal Pilson, a media consultant and former CBS Sports president. "He has focused on the Olympic coverage. He has strong personal relations with members of the IOC. He is a great fan of Olympic sports, and he has made the Olympics a cornerstone of NBC."
Ebersol was there for the start of another of the network's hallmarks, "Saturday Night Live," and briefly replaced Lorne Michaels as that show's executive producer in the early 1980s. Ebersol became director of late-night programming at NBC in 1974, and became president of NBC Sports in 1989.