Nick Charles, who started off as a taxi driver and later became the first sports anchor at CNN, died Saturday after battling bladder cancer since 2009. He was 64.

Charles died peacefully, looking out at the spectacular land that drew him to Santa Fe, New Mexico, his wife, Cory, said.

Charles began at CNN on the network’s first day, June 1, 1980, and covered nearly every sporting event over the years.

He was paired with Fred Hickman for most of the next two decades on “Sports Tonight,” a show that beat ESPN in ratings when the upstarts were battling for viewers. To this day, he and Hickman remain one of the longest-lasting anchor duos in television.

Topps, the trading-card company, put Charles’ million-dollar smile on a bubble gum card, a rarity for a television personality. People magazine once dubbed him one of the most handsome men in America.

“Nick was your friend from the moment you met him – and he stayed your friend forever,” said Rick Davis, one of Charles’ producers at CNN in the 1980s. “All of us who had the very good fortune to have been his friend have so much to remember about how he touched our lives in his own special way,” said Davis, who is CNN’s executive vice president of News Standards and Practices.

At his home in Santa Fe recently, Charles pointed to his signature mop of curly black hair as he scrolled through photographs of his on-air days. “Look at that thing,” he said with a laugh. “It’s my Billy Ray Cyrus mullet.”

Facing death, Charles embraced life

While the world knew Charles for his sportscaster days, it was his battle with cancer that inspired tens of thousands of people. In a recent article, he talked openly about the dying process and preparing his family for when he was gone. He made birthday video diaries for his 5-year-old daughter, Giovanna, in the years to come.

“This is a gift from God where I need to build these memories for her, so that I’m not a blur,” he said. “I feel that when I go, that I’m going to prepare a place for my daughter and my wife. I’m going to be in their heart and soul. I tell them that every day.”

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His message, he said, is to “never give up on life.”

“It’s an imperfect world, but, boy, it’s still beautiful.”

“What is life?” he said. “It’s 20 percent what happens to you and 80 percent how you react to it.”

“Find that little kernel every day that brings you pleasure and joy – and fasten onto that. That’s what’s going to make life worth living. Always look for the best.”

“When you’re contemplating your mortality and your life,” he said, “those are the things I reflect on.”