Harold Lederman, the International Boxing Hall of Famer who devoted his life to the sport and became one of its beloved figures as HBO's longtime unofficial judge, died Saturday at a hospice care center in New City, New York, after a long battle with cancer, HBO confirmed.
He was 79.
Lederman, a Bronx native, began working as a professional judge in the late 1960s, and judged more than 100 world title fights on six continents. In 1986, HBO Sports executive producer Ross Greenburg hired Lederman to give his unofficial scores and go over the rules on its boxing telecasts, where he brought unbridled enthusiasm to the role.
Lederman retired as an active judge in 1999, but he remained with HBO, where he became something of an ambassador for the sport, drawing crowds of boxing fans whenever he would be at a fight. He would take pictures, sign autographs and talk boxing for hours with fans, who came to appreciate his authoritative scoring on many of boxing biggest fights, as well as his unmistakable high-pitched and distinctive voice when giving his scores, commentary and prefight rules.
Jim Lampley, the International Boxing Hall of Fame broadcaster who worked with Lederman at HBO from 1988 until the network ended its boxing coverage in December, grew close to him over the years.
"It was one of the greatest privileges of my broadcasting career to work with Harold Lederman, whose unique humanity and lifelong love of boxing brought joy to the hearts of millions of fans, show after show after show," Lampley said. "They waited for his moments, they were thrilled by his insights, they gloried in imitating his voice. No one in the sport had more friends, because no one in the sport was more deserving of friends.
"As deeply saddened as I am by his passing, I am equally deeply joyful that he made it to the final bell on Dec. 8. Nothing was more important to the legacy of HBO Boxing, so in that we can all take solace. Now his scorecard is complete."
In all, Lederman scored more than 1,000 fights at HBO. Despite his illness, Lederman was there to the end even though he was unable to travel for the final several events and worked from a studio.
"Harold Lederman had a lifelong love affair with the sport of boxing," said Peter Nelson, executive vice president of HBO Sports. "Over the past 50 years he was universally respected and celebrated by the many people who make the sport what it is. Harold was happiest when seated ringside, studying the action and scoring the fight. When he joined HBO Sports in 1986 he added a new and critical component to live boxing coverage. Viewers embraced his unique style and his command of the rules while his broadcast colleagues relished his enthusiasm and boundless energy.
"He was an historian and walking rulebook. He always had time for you whether you were a heavyweight champion or just a spectator looking to say hello. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Eileen, and daughters Julie and Iris. There isn't a person in the sport who won't miss our Harold Lederman."
For many years Lederman, a graduate of Columbia University, worked as a pharmacist in New York, but he often told stories about taking too much time off to work HBO events and getting fired, only to find a new job soon after. Eventually, he gave up pharmacy work in favor of working as the HBO unofficial judge.
"Many fans and reporters would ask me over the years, 'What was your score?' I never scored fights because I worked with him," Lampley said. "Why confuse the issue when your telecast employed the best and most faithful ringside scorer alive? And how did fans score Harold? Most unanimous decision ever."
Among the most famous fights Lederman worked as an official judge were Muhammad Ali-Ken Norton III, Wilfredo Gomez-Lupe Pintor, Michael Dokes-Mike Weaver II, Michael Spinks-Larry Holmes I and Evander Holyfield-Dwight Muhammad Qawi I.
Through his career, Lederman received several honors, none bigger than his 2016 induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York.
In 1997, he was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in Los Angeles. The Boxing Writers Association of America gave him the Marvin Kohn Good Guy award in 2006, and the Sam Taub award for broadcast excellence in 2009.
Lederman's daughter Julie followed in his footsteps and is a renowned boxing judge.