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Frank Deford was awarded a National Humanities Medal by President Obama in 2013. Getty Images

Legendary sportswriter Frank Deford has died at the age of 78. Deford's wife confirmed to the Washington Post that he died on Sunday in Key West, Florida.

Deford first began writing for Sports Illustrated in 1962 not long after he graduated from Princeton University and for the last three decades was a reliable presence on National Public Radio. His erudition, well-groomed appearance and thoughtful commentary distinguished him from other sportswriters. As Sports Illustrated notes, he recently retired from NPR after his 1,656th audio essay. Deford was also a popular contributor to HBO's Real Sports

Known in his later years for his wisps of salt-and-pepper hair and characteristic pencil-thin mustache, Deford wrote several books and was on six occasions named U.S. Sportswriter of the Year. He was elected to the Hall of Fame of the National Association of Sportscasters and Sportswriters, and in 2013 President Barack Obama presented Deford with the National Humanities Medal. 

Deford is survived by his wife, the former fashion model Carol Penner, two children, and two grandchildren. Deford's eldest daughter died at the age of 8 from cystic fibrosis -- a disease that Deford devoted much of his life to fighting through charitable endeavors.