Over a distinguished career that started in the early days of television, Sheldon Cooper left a lasting impression on Chicago broadcasting as general manager of WGN-Channel 9 and founding president of Tribune Entertainment.
Cooper died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease Sunday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, according to his daughter, Cheryl Cook. He was 93.
“With a career spanning 44 years with WGN and Tribune . . . Sheldon was a pioneer, bringing talent such as Mike Douglas and Phil Donahue to the Chicago market,” Paul Rennie, vice president and general manager of WGN, said Tuesday. “Our thoughts are with his family. He was truly one of Chicago’s Very Own.”
A native of South Bend, Indiana, Cooper served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and graduated from Indiana University with a degree in theatrical arts. He landed his first job in television at NBC in New York as a page on “The Milton Berle Show.” In 1950 he joined WGN in Chicago, where he rose from director and producer to vice president of program development. In 1974 he was promoted to president and general manager, heading the Tribune Company’s flagship station for the next eight years.
In 1982 he was named president of Tribune Productions, which later became Tribune Entertainment, the syndication unit overseeing such national programs as “Soul Train,” “At The Movies with Siskel and Ebert” and “Geraldo Rivera.” Under his leadership, “The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vault” in 1986 drew an estimated 30 million viewers, making it the highest-rated syndicated special in history.
He retired from Tribune in 1993 to start his own development business.
The winner of multiple Emmy Awards, Cooper became the first inductee in the Silver Circle of the Chicago/Midwest chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 1992.
“We at NATAS mourn the passing of WGN-TV’s Sheldon Cooper,” said academy president Steven Novak. “He was a broadcast pioneer and the recipient of our first ever Silver Circle honor. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
Cooper was preceded in death by his wife Mary. In addition to his daughter, survivors include a son, Charles Cooper, and six grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 1:30 p.m. Friday at Temple Sholom of Chicago, 3480 North Lake Shore Drive.