John Saunders in 2014
Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Paley Center for Media

Beloved ESPN host John Saunders has died at the age of 61, ESPN reports.

Saunders covered college football, basketball and the NHL for the network and was the anchor of SportsCenter and The Sports Reporters.

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Saunders, who was born in Canada, was an all-star defenseman in the junior hockey leagues of Montreal and also played at Western Michigan and Ryerson Polytechnical in Toronto before launching his broadcasting career.

He was also a founding member and on the board of directors of the V Foundation for Cancer Research.

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"John was an extraordinary talent, and his friendly, informative style has been a warm welcome to sports fans for decades," John Skipper, president of ESPN and co-chairman of Disney Media Networks, said in a statement. "His wide range of accomplishments across numerous sports and championship events is among the most impressive this industry has ever seen. More importantly, John was a beloved and devoted family man who cared deeply about people and causes, as evidenced by his long-standing efforts as a passionate board member for the V Foundation for Cancer Research.

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"He was one of the most significant and influential members of the ESPN family, as a colleague and mentor, and he will be sorely missed," the statement continued. "Our thoughts are with his loved ones at this extremely difficult time."

Saunders had been with ESPN for some 30 years, joining in December 1986 to anchor SportsCenter. He started hosting ESPN's weekly roundtable show, The Sports Reporters, in 2011.

"John Saunders represented everything that was good in a human being. He was all about family and helping people," colleague Dick Vitale said, according to ESPN. "He was as good as it gets, and he had deep loyalty and love for others. His work with the V Foundation was so special—he loved Jimmy V and poured his heart and soul into the cause.

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Saunders’ death lit up conversation on social media, with many taking to Twitter to remember his legacy.

Read more at ESPN