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Tom Harmon Dies at 70 : Football: Michigan's Old 98, Heisman Trophy winner in 1940, suffered a heart attack after playing round of golf.

March 16, 1990|LARRY STEWART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tom Harmon, Old 98, died Thursday of a heart attack shortly after playing 18 holes of golf at the Bel-Air Country Club.

Harmon, 70, won a tournament with Dr. David Boska as his partner earlier in the day.

From the country club, Harmon drove to the Amelia Travel Agency in West Los Angeles, where he became ill.

He told employees there to call Dr. Boska at his office on San Vicente Boulevard because he was feeling ill, but he soon passed out and paramedics were called to the scene.

He was taken to UCLA Medical Center, which issued the following statement:

"Tom Harmon, age 70, died of cardiac arrest at 6:40 p.m. in the emergency room at UCLA Medical Center. He was brought to the emergency room at 6:08 p.m. by the paramedics in full cardiac arrest. After efforts of resuscitation, he was pronounced dead."

Harmon's son Mark, a motion picture and television star, said funeral arrangements are pending.

Bob Speck, a longtime friend, said Harmon went to the travel agency to pick up tickets for a trip to a celebrity golf tournament. Speck wasn't sure where the tournament takes place.

"I talked to Tom yesterday," Speck said, "and he was feeling fine."

Speck said Harmon had four birdies on the front nine Thursday.

Harmon suffered a heart attack a little more than two years ago at the age of 68, according to Speck.

Harmon, best known as a football star at the University of Michigan, won the Heisman Trophy in 1940.

Also in 1940, Harmon, a two-time All-American, was named the Associated Press athlete of the year and recipient of the Maxwell Award as the college football player of the year.

He was the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft of December, 1940. He was chosen by the Chicago Bears, who had the Philadelphia Eagles' first choice that year.

But he never played for the Bears, instead going with the New York Americans of a rival league.

During World War II, he served in the U.S. Air Force and was awarded the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.

Harmon survived bailouts from two destroyed planes.

He crashed in the South American jungle, en route to North Africa, and walked out six days later.

He also was shot down over the Yangtze River in China in a dogfight with a Zero, and was rescued 32 days later by a Chinese Patrol.

After World War II, he played for the Rams in 1946 and '47, but showed only flashes of his former greatness because his legs had been burned and injured in the war.

Before joining the Rams, he married Hollywood film actress Elyse Knox, whom he met on the Bing Crosby radio show.

Besides Mark, who was a quarterback at UCLA, their children are Kristin, who was married to the late Ricky Nelson, and Kelly, a commercial actress and model.

After football, Harmon got into sports broadcasting.

He did the play-by-play on the first-ever Rose Bowl telecast for NBC in the late '40s.

Harmon later worked at KTLA, from 1958 through '64, doing nightly sports when Speck, now an independent sports packager and producer, also worked at the station.

He later had two stints as the UCLA football play-by-play announcer at KTLA, when Speck was the sports director.

Harmon stayed closely associated with Speck, and in recent years was the host of the "Raider Playbook" show, produced by Speck. The show is carried by Channel 4.

Speck said Harmon was to continue hosting the shows this season.

Harmon had done some play-by-play on Raider exhibition games in recent years, and was still doing commercial work, but his No. 1 activity was playing golf.

Harmon first did nightly sports on Channel 2 before moving over to KTLA with Clete Roberts and Bill Stout in 1958. Roberts, Stout and Harmon were known as the Big Three.

When Harmon left KTLA in 1964, he got out of broadcasting except for a national ABC Radio show.

He returned to broadcasting a couple of years later, replacing Keith Jackson as KTLA's UCLA play-by-play announcer.

He left that job, but returned when son Mark, a transfer from Pierce College, became UCLA's starting quarterback in 1972.

Tom Harmon was born Sept. 28, 1919, in Gary, Ind., the son of Gary policeman Louis A. Harmon.

His older brothers, Lou and Harold, starred in basketball and track at Purdue, and another brother, Gene, was a basketball star at Tulane.

Tom won 14 varsity letters in four sports at Horace Mann High School in Gary. He won the state championships in the 100-yard dash and 220-yard low hurdles and the national interscholastic scoring championship with 150 points.

Harmon's high school football coach, Dick Kerr, a former Michigan player, got Harmon interested in the Ann Arbor campus by taking the high school backfield to football clinics held there during spring practice.

As a starter at Michigan from 1938 through '40, Harmon impressed the nation with his exploits, demonstrating triple-threat versatility as a runner, passer and kicker. He also played defense.

Besides being called Old 98, he was also dubbed the Gary Ghost.

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