3-2-1938 - 23-7-2013
Emile Griffith, a world welterweight and middleweight champion who spent decades haunted by his fatal beating of then-champion Benny Paret in the ring and bothered by public interest in his sexuality, has died aged 75.
Griffith's death at an extended-care facility in Hempstead, New York, was announced by the International Boxing Hall of Fame, where he was inducted in 1990 following an 85-24-2 career that counted 23 main events at Madison Square Garden and victories over middleweight champions Dick Tiger and Nino Benvenuti.
Said Griffith's friend and biographer, Ron Ross: "It was difficult to get into details with Emile. To the end, he would not want to make himself so open to everyone. He didn't like to be labelled gay and still felt the world was not ready for Emile Griffith."
Griffith was born February 3, 1938, in St Thomas, the Virgin Islands. He was working as a stock boy handling women's hats at a New York garment factory when factory executive and boxing manager Howie Albert noticed his physique and coaxed him to work out for famed boxing trainer Gil Clancy.
Griffith was a fast-punching, deceptive fighter, but the boxer found a foil in Cuba's Benny "Kid" Paret. Griffith knocked out Paret in the 13th round of their April 1961 bout, and Paret responded with a split-decision triumph five months later.
That set the stage for their third world title bout, at Madison Square Garden in March 1962, when Paret inflamed Griffith by insulting him with a slur, which Sports Illustrated described as "gutter Spanish for homosexual".
Clancy had to take Griffith for a walk around New York following the weigh-in to help him cool off. Griffith told Ross: "There was never hatred, but I was very angry."
Griffith told Ross he meant to win by knockout, "but I never intended to harm Benny Paret".
Griffith controlled the fight before Paret scored a knockdown in the eighth round. Griffith rallied and cornered Paret in the 12th.
Sports Illustrated reported: "Suddenly, Emile battered Paret with a plangent right. This time, Griffith resolved to finish him. He began belabouring the suffering Paret with right uppercuts, one after another, an unrelenting fusillade, Emile's hand banging against Benny's jaw as remorselessly as the clapper of a great, dark bell. Paret sagged back against the middle turnbuckle ... Still Griffith punched him, with mounting and maniacal rage ... There were, in all, about 15 uppercuts, followed by several hooks."
Referee Ruby Goldstein finally stopped the fight. Paret died 10 days later.
A 2005 documentary about the fight and Griffith, Ring of Fire, featured a meeting between Griffith and Paret's son, Benny junior, but Paret's wife refused to acknowledge Griffith at the premiere.
In an interview afterwards, Griffith acknowledged sexual relations with men and women.
He had a long relationship in the 1990s with Luis Rodrigo Griffith, a young man whom he later adopted. He married a woman, Mercedes Donastorg, in 1971, divorced soon after and told Ross he preferred physical relations with women "but felt more comfortable with men, and could confide in them".
Outside a New York gay bar in 1992, Griffith was severely beaten by at least five men who mugged him with bats and chains, leading him to a later life of dementia, Ross said.
Griffith is survived by a son, three brothers and three sisters.