CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) – Woody Durham, the retired “Voice of the Tar Heels” who called North Carolina football and basketball games for four decades, died Wednesday. He was 76.
Son Wes Durham said his father died from complications of the neurocognitive disorder that prevented him from public speaking, school spokesman Steve Kirschner said.
Durham called UNC games from 1971 through 2011. He worked more than 1,800 games with a voice that became inextricably tied to some of the school’s most unforgettable victories. That included the 1982 and 1993 NCAA basketball championships under late coach Dean Smith as well as the 2005 and 2009 titles under Roy Williams.
Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford, the former athletic director at UNC, compared Durham’s voice to “gospel to generations of Tar Heels who trusted his every word.” Williams called it “a very sad day for everyone who loves the University of North Carolina”
“It’s ironic that Woody would pass away at the start of the postseason in college basketball because this was such a joyous time for him,” Williams said. “He created so many lasting memories for Carolina fans during this time of year. It’s equally ironic that he dealt with a disorder for the final years of his life that robbed him of his ability to communicate as effectively as he did in perfecting his craft.”
Durham called 23 bowl games and 13 Final Fours in his career. He also spoke during the public memorial following Smith’s death in February 2015.
Durham said in an open letter to fans in 2016 that he had been diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, which affects language expression.
“Our family is grateful for the incredible support my dad and our family received throughout his illness,” said Wes Durham, a broadcaster who works ACC games. “From the medical teams to the general public, it’s been amazing. We hold to and will always cherish the wonderful memories he left for our family and Carolina fans throughout the world.”
“Woody was synonymous with Carolina Athletics for decades, and his voice was gospel to generations of Tar Heels who trusted his every word. I was struck by how diligently Woody prepared for his broadcast of games. When game time arrived, he made it look and sound so easy because he had a voice that resonated just so, but much of it was because he worked incredibly hard at it.”
– ACC Commissioner John Swofford