Danny Villanueva, 77, media executive and former LA Ram*

danny-villanueva-325.jpgDanny Villanueva was the kicker for the Los Angeles Rams in the early 1960s and worked on the side as a sportscaster at KNBC Channel 4 and KMEX Channel 34, at the time LA's only Spanish-language television station. After he retired from the NFL he became the news director at KMEX. Villanueva hired the station's first field reporter, rose to president of KMEX and later had a role in the founding of Spanish-language media giant Univision. Along the way, he became wealthy and gave a lot of money back.

Villanueva died last week at Ventura County Medical Center of complications from a stroke. He was 77. "He was a trailblazer," said retired USC journalism professor Felix Gutierrez.

From the LA Times obit:

Villanueva bought stakes in other stations and KMEX became the flagship of the Spanish International Communications Corp., the precursor to the national Univision network. Villanueva was part-owner of Univision when Hallmark Cards bought a majority stake in the network in 1988 for more than $260 million.

"It just goes to show you how much the Hispanic market has grown," Villanueva told the Miami Herald in 2002. "It's one of the great American stories."

During Villanueva's tenure, KMEX went from a niche operation to a cultural force in Los Angeles.

Born in Tucamcari, New Mexico to migrant missionaries, Villanueva grew up mostly in Calexico and graduated from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces [not the University of New Mexico.] He's something of a legend there. From AP out of Las Cruces:

After graduating in 1961, he played for the Los Angeles Rams, where he was nicknamed "El Kickador." Bullfighting music was played whenever he walked onto the field….

Officials at New Mexico State said Villanueva leaves behind a lifetime of successes as well as a legacy of giving. Villanueva, who lived in Southern California, was a longtime booster for his alma mater, having donated several million dollars to the university.

"Danny Villanueva was an outstanding Aggie, a great football player and a generous philanthropist," university president Garrey Carruthers said. "He came from a small town in New Mexico and rose to become a very successful entrepreneur in both television and real estate."

Villanueva co-founded the investment firm Bastion Capital in 1992 and co-founded Rustic Canyon/Fontis Partners, an investment firm aimed at helping family businesses.

In 1991, he established the Danny Villanueva Scholarship Endowment to recognize New Mexico State students who excel in leadership and community involvement. The endowment has paid for more than 40 scholarships.

Villanueva finished his NFL career with the Dallas Cowboys, playing in the famous 1967 championship showdown won by the Green Bay Packers in the snow at Wisconsin's Lambeau Field.

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