Howard Cosell Biography

News Anchor, Talk Show Host (1918–1995)
Howard Cosell was a sports broadcaster and a part of the original broadcast team for Monday Night Football.


Howard Cosell was born on March 25, 1918, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. After a brief tenure as a lawyer, in 1956 Cosell became a sportscaster for ABC and later was the boxing announcer throughout Muhammad Ali's career. He was famous for "telling it like it is," and Cosell's opinionated broadcasts for Monday Night Football won him fans and detractors alike. He died in 1995.

Early Years

A pioneering voice in the world of television sportscasting, Howard Cosell was born Howard William Cohen on March 25, 1918, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. His parents, Isidore and Nellie Cohen, were Polish immigrants who relocated to Brooklyn, New York, when Howard was a boy. There, Isidore worked as an accountant for a chain of clothing stores, putting in long work hours that rarely saw him spend much time with his family. As a result, much of the parenting fell on the shoulders of Cosell's mother, a difficult woman and a bit of a philanderer.

Despite his sometimes rocky home life, young Cosell excelled at school and eventually ended up at New York University. It was in college that Cosell changed his name—not, as some critics later claimed, because he wanted to hide his Jewish roots, but rather, he said, because it was closer to his family's Polish name.

After finishing his undergraduate work, Cosell stayed on at NYU to pursue a law degree. He proved to be one of the school's better students and during his time there became editor of the law review.

After finishing his studies, Cosell embarked on a successful law practice, one that had him working with several clients from the entertainment and sports worlds, including baseball player Willie Mays.

Sportscasting Career

Cosell's entry into sportscasting was the fortunate result of an unusual idea he formed after helping a friend form a Little League in New York City. Intrigued by the concept of having young ballplayers interview major leaguers, Cosell launched a radio show in 1953 around the idea. ABC radio quickly picked up the program, and by 1956 Cosell had quit law and was doing sportscasting and commentary full-time for the network.

In the often placid and gushy world of sportscasting, Cosell easily stuck out. He was impressed neither by the athletes he covered, nor by his colleagues, many of whom he considered hacks or, worse, cheerleaders.

Cosell's arrogance did little to endear him to his fellow sportscasters. And that didn't bother him, either. "Arrogant, pompous, obnoxious, vain, cruel, verbose, a showoff," Cosell said. "I have been called all of these. Of course, I am."

With his signature phrase—"I tell like it is"—Cosell was unafraid to tackle some of the most controversial issues in sports. In 1967 he came to the defense of Muhammad Ali after the heavyweight champ was stripped of his belt for refusing to go to Vietnam. He later sided with baseball player Curt Flood and the players' union in their push to usher in the era of free agency.

He could cover any sport, but he earned his fame as boxing sportscaster and as one of the original men in the booth for Monday Night Football. He stayed with MNF for 14 seasons and generated numerous memorable moments, none more so than on December 8, 1980, when he broke the news to viewers that John Lennon had been shot and killed outside of his apartment in New York City.

While his critics—and there were plenty—slammed his nasal, Brooklyn-infused staccato style of speech, as well as his obvious hairpiece, few could dispute that during the 1970s and early 1980s, there was no bigger sportscaster in America. He made several movie cameos and even appeared on Saturday Night Live. For a short time, beginning in 1975, Cosell hosted the ABC comedy-variety program Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell.

Later Years

After leaving Monday Night Football in 1984, Cosell continued to stay busy. He wrote his autobiography, briefly hosted his own sports interview program for ABC Sports, and later returned to his roots by becoming host of a sports radio show.

Health problems plagued Cosell for much of the early 1990s, and in the early morning hours of April 23, 1995, he died of a heart embolism at the Hospital for Joint Diseases in New York City.

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!