LeRoy Neiman, whose distinctive, abstract style of painting sports figures in action made him a star on a par with some of the famous athletes he painted, died on Wednesday at age 91, his spokeswoman said.

Neiman, a showman known for his handlebar mustache, sometimes painted live on television during major events such as the Olympics or the Super Bowl, helping make him one of the world's most commercially successful contemporary artists.

Neiman created accessible works of art that depicted sports and other leisure activities in a highly colorful style that blended elements of realism and Impressionism.

Neiman's art career got started through an unlikely connection -- Hugh Hefner, who saw the young artist's work and was impressed. Neiman started creating art for Playboy magazine in the 1950s in Chicago, the Associated Press reported.

While he focused on the major American sports, like baseball and basketball, he also gained fame in a 1972 television broadcast for sketching chess players Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer playing against each other in Iceland.