Journalist blogged for NPR about his battle with cancer

Times Staff Writer

Leroy Sievers, a broadcast journalist who candidly and poignantly commented on the disease that would take his life in My Cancer, a popular National Public Radio blog, has died. He was 53.

Sievers, a former executive producer of ABC’s “Nightline,” died Friday at his home in Maryland, NPR announced.

In 2001, Sievers was successfully treated for colon cancer, but four years later he was diagnosed with brain and lung cancer.


He began his public conversation about the disease by saying, “Death and I are hardly strangers” in a that aired on NPR’s “Morning Edition” in early 2006. It was a reference to his quarter-century as a journalist during which he covered more than a dozen wars for CBS and ABC news. His radio commentaries evolved into a regular series about his life that he called “cancer world.” The project grew to include a daily blog and a weekly podcast.

“Leroy gave voice to a topic that we are very uncomfortable with -- death and dying,” Ellen McDonnell, NPR’s morning programming director said in a statement. “My Cancer had a face and a heart and a smile.”

Ted Koppel, his “Nightline” colleague, documented Sievers’ cancer battle in the Discovery Channel program “Living With Cancer” that aired last year.

Last month, Koppel introduced Sievers on NPR as “a 6-foot, 5-inch force of nature.” The My Cancer blog had “attracted a remarkable community of cancer survivors” who have “drawn enormous strength from all the others,” Koppel added.

The blog has more than 30,000 comments posted.

“Cancer was not in Leroy’s plans,” Koppel said Sunday in a statement on NPR’s website. “But he turned his battle with cancer into the most dramatic, the most moving and the most important story of his life.”

Sievers was born in 1955 in Los Angeles County and grew up outside L.A. He attended Princeton University and graduated from UC Berkeley, where he worked at the campus radio station. He started out in television news in 1978 as an assignment editor for KTVU-TV in Oakland. In 1982, he went to CBS News and served as the Los Angeles bureau chief and as a producer in Miami and New York.


After joining ABC News and “Nightline” in 1991, Sievers consistently volunteered to cover stories that others shied from, notably the genocide in Rwanda, L.A. Weekly reported in 2005.

During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Sievers was embedded alongside “Nightline” anchor Koppel with the 3rd Infantry Division, which fought its way from Kuwait to Baghdad.

A memorable “Nightline” segment called “The Fallen,” which aired in April 2004, was Sievers’ idea. He had proposed that an entire program be devoted to reading the names of American men and women killed in the Iraq War.

Sievers spent 14 years with “Nightline” and once called it “a dream job,” reporting “news that mattered.”

In 2000, he became the show’s executive producer, a demanding position that he considered “great fun.” But the 15-hour days took their toll, and he resigned in 2005.

He became a guest lecturer at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and traveled to Africa for Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group.


After Sievers began chronicling life with cancer, he was often asked, “What do you get out of writing the blog?”

One post on My Cancer gave an answer: “A daily reminder that none of us walks this road alone. What could be better than that?”

Sievers is survived by his wife, television producer Laurie Singer.