“Stu was skeptical, and he was constantly trying to figure out what might go wrong,” Mr. Rasmussen said in a telephone interview. “But he was a sports enthusiast, and it would be a feather in his cap if it turned out well.”
Mr. Evey persuaded the Getty board to invest $10 million in ESPN for an 85 percent stake, with Mr. Rasmussen and his family owning the rest. It was a critical investment. The network went on the air on Sept. 7, 1979, and eventually became the largest force in sports media.
But something more than a willingness to take a risk attracted Mr. Evey to the ESPN proposal.
By the time Getty invested in ESPN, Mr. Evey had been at the company for 20 years. He had built his career largely around that of George F. Getty II, one of the billionaire J.Paul Getty’s five sons. As George Getty’s administrative assistant and then his executive assistant, Mr. Evey was given a privileged view of the oil business and close-up exposure to his boss’s drinking and depression.
Because of his friendly relationship with George Getty, Mr. Evey became a protector, a kind of fixer; he thought of Mr. Getty as a brother who had “likely led me down the road to overindulgences that might have killed me if I hadn’t smartened up later in life,” he wrote in his memoir, “ESPN: Creating an Empire” (2004).
By 1972, Mr. Evey was officially vice president for Getty Oil’s diversified activities, which included commercial real estate, hotels, lumber mills, wine and farming. The job kept him close to George Getty.
“A lot of times when I was with him, he would say, ‘Stu, one of my great hopes is to develop an operating company that doesn’t have my father’s name on it,’ ” Mr. Evey said in a lecture at Washington and Lee University in 2010.
Mr. Getty died of an overdose of alcohol, diet pills and barbiturates in 1973 in what was ruled a probable suicide, but Mr. Evey believed that owning ESPN would have satisfied his ambition to break away from his father.
“It was far removed from the core business of Getty,” he said.
Stuart Wayne Evey was born on Feb. 26, 1933, in Havre, Mont., and lived in nearby Chinook as a…