Burbank Mayor Will Rogers, 60, dies after battle with liver cancer

Burbank Mayor Will Rogers and Family Service Agency of Burbank Executive Director Laurie Bleick during an event in October. Rogers, 60, died Thursday after battling liver cancer.
(File Photo)

Burbank Mayor Will Rogers died Thursday after battling stage 4 liver cancer and non-alcoholic cirrhosis. He was 60 years old.

Rogers, who was a Minnesota native, publicly talked about his battles with cancer in September, saying then that he had been diagnosed and was cleared of any cancer four times during the past two years.

However, a recent diagnosis of hepatocellular carcinoma, one of the most common forms of liver cancer, was more serious than his previous diagnoses.

“He let us know that he was ill, but that he didn’t know how much time he had,” Councilman Jess Talamantes said Thursday. “It was just a matter of time, and unfortunately, it was today.”

During his press conference in September, Rogers, who was elected in 2015, said he would continue his duties as mayor but to a lesser capacity.

Many of his colleagues stepped in for him at events whenever he was unable to attend. However, Rogers still tried his best to fulfill as many obligations as he could, which was something other council members took to heart.

Council member Sharon Springer said Thursday that Rogers’ dedication and commitment to the city was something that could not be ignored, adding that his drive to be transparent with the public was an attribute that she will try to carry during her stint on the City Council.

“I always hope for a miracle, but he was having a difficult time the last few times that I spent time with him during meetings and at city events,” Springer said.

Vice Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy, who will now assume the role of mayor, said Thursday that although Rogers was dealing with cancer the best he could, his wittiness, humor and outspoken nature never wavered.

Gabel-Luddy reminisced about the Burbank Temporary Aid Center’s annual gala on April 6, saying that Rogers was still cracking jokes about himself and that his spirits were high.

“He really was at the top of his game,” she said. “He was funny, witty and had that self-deprecating humor. That’s how I want to remember him — how much joy and laughter he brought to the community as a whole and certainly how he kept the council laughing.”

As the newest council member, Springer said Rogers helped her get through meetings, and reminded her to be strong and face adversity head-on when discussions became heated.

“He would utter words of encouragement under his breath,” she said. “He always gave me that reminder to be brave and to do the right thing, because he would certainly do it, and he did it.”

Councilman Bob Frutos echoed Springer’s sentiment, adding that Rogers was always committed to improving his community.

One of Rogers’ biggest projects was retooling the agenda format for council meetings to get residents more involved, which did not sit well with some constituents. However, Frutos said on Thursday that Rogers thought that changing the format — allowing three minutes for general-public comments and three minutes of comment time per agenda item — would increase community participation.

“Will came in with the charge of open-government transparency and allowed people more time to speak,” Frutos said.

Like the rest of his colleagues, Frutos said Rogers’ dedication to Burbank before and after his diagnosis was remarkable and that he will be greatly missed.

“He was very determined to finish his year as mayor, regardless of the personal cost to his health because he believed in service to others above himself,” Frutos said.

Rogers moved to Los Angeles in 1979 and worked as an actor and writer for several publications, including the L.A. Weekly. In 1990, he worked as a columnist for the Burbank Leader and received several awards from the California Newspaper Publishers Assn.

While his career had many highs, Rogers faced a legal hardship in 1996, when then Councilwoman Susan Spanos sued him alleging he had sexually assaulted her after a January 1996 council meeting.

Rogers denied the wrongdoing and Spanos, who prosecutors said had a history of threatening people and who was being treated for depression and drug abuse during the suit, dropped her case in 1997 after Rogers agreed to not countersue. Rogers did not pay Spanos any money.

Following Rogers’ death, Burbank officials will have 30 days to fill his vacancy. That person will hold office until the end of Rogers’ term, which is April 2019.

Rogers is survived by his wife, Nancie, daughter, Sarah, and son, Stephen. Plans for his memorial have yet to be announced.

Twitter: @acocarpio


6:11 p.m.: This article was updated with more information about Will Rogers’ background and additional comments from his council colleagues.

This article was originally published at 1:40 p.m.