Cliff Russell, 910 AM radio host, dies at 61

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Cliff Russell, host of "The Cliff Russell Show" on 910 AM radio, died Sunday of a heart attack. He was 61.

Greg Russell, Cliff's brother, says he was "always a happy guy, no matter what was going on." 

Radio personality Cliff Russell.

Russell, who dedicated his talk show to issues facing black Metro Detroiters, was planning to see the "Black Panther" movie with his brother on Monday. 

"This caught everybody by surprise," Greg said. "He'd had several heart attacks before, but always pulled through."

On Feb. 1, at the start of Black History Month, Russell, in a Facebook post, encouraged people to "(take) to the road and actually (visit) some of the Black historic sites throughout Michigan and around the country."

A September 2016 post on Deadline Detroit detailed some of Russell's heart troubles. Russell had just turned 60 the month before and needed to have stents put into his heart at University Hospital in Ann Arbor to relieve blocked arteries. He used the occasion as a teachable moment. 

"I decided to post this news on Facebook (along with this very unflattering photo)," Russell wrote at the time, "because I am hoping to persuade people, black men in particular, to take much better care of ourselves.

"This latest health challenge is the direct result of my less-than-healthy eating habits. Even though I have had heart attacks before, I still was eating way too much junk food. I should know better, and I have no excuse," he wrote. "If the good Lord allows me to come through this ordeal, I am committing myself to practicing and promoting a healthy lifestyle."

In past decades, Russell was a spokesman for Mayor Dennis Archer and head of the communications office of the Detroit Tigers.

“The Detroit Tigers are saddened to learn of the passing of Cliff Russell,” the team said in a statement Monday. “We extend our deepest sympathies to his family and friends during this time.”

More recently, he called University of Detroit Mercy basketball games on the radio station and hosted his self-titled show, Monday through Friday, 2 to 4 p.m. 

Through spokesman Mort Meisner, 910 AM CEO Kevin Adell said he is "heartbroken" at Russell's unexpected death.

"We're speechless right now," Meisner said. "He was a big teddy bear and a well-respected man."

Greg described his brother as a man who "loved Detroit, even when times were very, very bleak."

"He was a great guy with a big smile," Greg said. "Every time I saw him, I got this great big bear hug."

Karen Dumas, who used to host "The Karen Dumas Show" on 910 AM in the time slot after Russell, said she's known Russell "for what seems like forever." 

"He was a staple in the communications space in Detroit," Dumas said. "I'll remember him for both his on-air professionalism and for his undeniable dedication to his family," which included frequent on-air tributes.

Russell is a Wayne State University graduate who started his college career at the University of Texas-El Paso basketball team. He finished it at Wayne State, and in 2007 Russell was inducted to the school's hall of fame.

Since 2016, Russell has been known as the voice of the UD-Mercy Titans men's basketball team.

In addition to calling games, he hosted a coach's show during the basketball season at Dino's in Ferndale.

Men's head coach Bacari Alexander, in a statement for UD's website, called Russell "a great husband, father, and community leader." 

Bernard Scott, head coach of the women's basketball team, called Russell "a great friend and supporter... a kind, caring and generous man who made everyone around him feel special," and added that "Monday nights will never be the same."

Russell signed off his radio show daily with a popular quote: "People don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care."

Russell is survived by his wife Charisa, six children, two stepsons, seven grandchildren, and three brothers.

Funeral arrangements are pending.