THE Brown Bomber’ Joe Louis, who died on Sunday April 12, 1981 aged 66, was regarded by many as the finest heavyweight champion of all time. He would certainly figure high on the list of anyone’s top ten.
Louis watched the Larry Holmes vs Trevor Berbick WBC heavyweight title fight at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, where he was formerly employed as a greeter. He went back to the hotel after the fight, where he later died of a heart attack. He was pronounced dead at Desert Springs Hospital. His wife, Martha, was with him at the hospital.
”He was in a cardiac arrest when he arrived,” said Shirley Brown, the nursing supervisor at the hospital. ”They did everything they could to revive him. He had been ill for quite some time. He had been hospitalised before.”
Louis had not enjoyed good health for a number of years and had been confined to a wheelchair following surgery to correct an aortic aneurysm. He was fitted with a heart pacemaker in 1977.
The former champion had loyal friends who looked after him when the glory years had been succeeded by harder times. At one stage Louis was taken to a psychiatric hospital for treatment.
Old foe Max Schmeling, who was financially successful in retirement, picked up Louis’ hospital bill for him.
Among friends made well after he quit boxing Louis could number Frank Sinatra. “Anytime I want anything I just have to pick up the phone to Frank and he’s never let me down,” Louis said.
On July 4, 1934, Louis made his professional boxing debut and knocked out Jack Kracken in one round in Chicago
‘The Brown Bomber’, as he was known at his peak, became champion at the young age of 22 and held the crown for 12 years.
He won it from Jim Braddock in Chicago by kayo in eight rounds, becoming the first black heavyweight champion since the great Jack Johnson in 1908.
Prior to winning the title Louis had only been beaten once in 36 fights by Max Schmeling, and he was to gain dramatic revenge in a title fight a year later.
Born in Alabama, the seventh child or poor sharecroppers, his real name was Joseph Louis Barrow. The family moved north to Detroit where Louis’ father got work in a car factory.
In all Louis won 68 professional fights and lost only three. He scored 54 knockouts, including five in the first round. After knocking out fierce rival Jersey Joe Walcott in 1948 he retired as undefeated champion in 1949. He continued to appear in exhibitions and in 1950 he decided to make a comeback, but was beaten by Ezzard Charles in 15 rounds. His final professional bout took place on Oct. 26, 1951, when he lost to Rocky Marciano in New York.
Although the undefeated up-and-comer Marciano’s punching power and toughness was not in question, Louis was the slight favourite with the bookies. But age had caught up with the great ex-champ and Louis’ stamina waned, and Marciano’s youth and determination wore him down. A thumping left hook to the jaw sent Louis down in the eighth. The wise old fighter stayed down on one knee until the count of nine and then bravely rose to take another bombardment. Marciano poured in as a soggy Louis melted into the ropes. Dazed and exhausted, Louis caught a hard right hand – Marciano’s pet punch ‘Suzy Q’ – on the button, and fell through the ropes. It was a sad sight, a massacre. “I saw the right hand coming,” he told reporters afterward, “but I couldn’t do anything about it.” Louis never fought again.