Leslie Mark Shapiro had an excellent life, but there was anguish, too. Les ate properly (excluding Chicago-style pizza), worked out and never smoked. Nonetheless, lung cancer killed Les at the age of 65.
A Chicagoland high school pitcher with a lively arm, Les studied mass communications in college. Cleverly, Les turned his sports passion and reportorial aptitude into a remarkable career in Colorado’s super-competitive sports media market.
Arriving at CBS4 in September 1984, Les had huge hair and made a big splash as sports anchor. His sports reports were smart, focused and frequently news-breaking.
Right before moving to Denver from Chicago, Les married Paula Adler, following a decade-long courtship. Ecstatic Les entertained hundreds of reception guests with jokes (“this is the happiest day of Paula’s life”) and crooning Sinatra.
Denver sports and Les Shapiro were rising. The Broncos won Super Bowls, and the Rockies arrived. Les adored baseball. The Shapiro family grew with two beautiful boys.
But at the turn of the century, the bottom dropped out of local sports broadcasting. Massive competition from the internet and ESPN meant local sports show shrinkage and substantial budget cuts.
At the peak of his skills and compensation, Les Shapiro and CBS4 parted ways. Younger replacements with bigger hair work cheap. Experienced, talented people departed.
But Les was irrepressible. He still had plenty of wavy hair and golden pipes. Les was a Chicago kid, but a Colorado man. He and Paula wanted to raise their boys here.
Colorado charities kept calling on Les as their free emcee because he was so great at the task. Les raised many dollars for great causes. Meanwhile, Paula’s hard work helped support the family while Les waited for broadcasting callbacks that too often never materialized.
Les learned new media working for Denver Post digital, ESPN Radio Denver, Mile High Sports Radio and Fox31. Check out the inspirational Unstoppable podcasts featuring outstanding interviews of famous sports figures by Les and his pal Vic Lombardi.
But something changed in 2015. Facebook postings and tweets by Les stopped featuring only sports and/or family.
Before Trump’s candidacy, the only semi-political posting observable on Les’ Facebook feed was 7/19/14 praise for “A short tutorial on the conflict in the Middle East. (Dennis) Prager is one of the smartest, most sensible people on national radio.”
According to Paula and oldest son, Jessie Shapiro, Les was apolitical before Donald Trump’s political emergence. Paula told me Les liked studying American presidents, but never got involved with party politics.
After witnessing a GOP presidential debate featuring Trump, Les Shapiro posted this on Facebook on 11/10/15: “Let’s see … classless, a name-caller, narcissistic, shallow, speaks in absolutes and thinks if he repeats himself, it’ll make him right. You’re entertaining, Donald, but you ain’t presidential timber. Oh, and Fiorina just took you to the woodshed.”
Facebook friends were startled. Trump fans fired back. Some were mean. Stay in your lane, Les was told. Stick to sports, detractors demanded.
But Les refused. He typed: “Nope. He’s (Trump’s) a dishonest and disrespectful person and he deserves the same. In fact, because he’s in a position of authority/power, he deserves it even more. He’s a shameless and a shameful human being. And anybody who supports him is complicit.”
Forceful political condemnations are not necessarily conducive to maximizing popularity with sports fans. Regardless, Les regularly battled Trumpism until his strength was gone.
Jessie Shapiro, age 35, an accomplished Hollywood musician and aspiring screenwriter, worried his dad’s social media battles were “unnecessary expulsions of energy and unhealthy.” Jessie astutely observes that these online debates rarely change the minds of the debaters.
But Jessie’s father’s outspokenness inspired many Facebook friends even if we didn’t always join in the back-and-forth comments. Les being worked up over politics caught our attention. We valued Les’ opinions. Thankfully, in 2020, America came to its senses and convincingly threw Trump out of office.
Standing up against injustice runs in Les Shapiro’s family. Paula’s father, Jack Adler, was 10 years old when Nazis conquered his Pabianice, Poland hometown. Jack’s parents, grandparents and all three of his siblings perished in the Holocaust. Sixteen-year-old Jack fled Europe in 1946.
Orphaned immigrant Jack settled near Chicago, worked hard, raised a fine family, before also moving to Colorado. Jack still speaks forcefully — as an eyewitness — against bigotry. Paula Shapiro’s brother, Eli Adler, produced the compelling 2015 documentary, Surviving Skokie, featuring Jack.
Music also runs through this family. Jack and Les loved to smile and croon, especially performing Mack the Knife. These men suffered shark bites, and bit back. Humanity has benefited from their examples and leadership.
Les would’ve turned 66 this Friday. On Sunday afternoon, fans, friends and family will celebrate the life of Les Shapiro at Blake Street Tavern.
Craig Silverman is a former Denver chief deputy DA who also has worked in the media for decades. Craig is columnist at large for The Colorado Sun. He practices law at the Denver law firm of Springer & Steinberg, P.C. and is host of The Craig Silverman Show podcast.
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