Joe Bruno on the Mob – Smokin’ Joe Frazier Dies of Liver Cancer

This one was personal to me. Joe Frazier was my friend.

I didn’t actually meet Joe Frazier until after he had retired from boxing. At the time I first met him, Frazier was handling the pro career of his son Marvis, a former Olympian like his father, who fought regularly at the Felt Forum in Madison Square Garden, and in Atlantic City. I’d run into Frazier at press conferences for his son’s fights, mostly at the San Remo Restaurant across the street from Madison Square Garden. After the press conferences, which usually began around noon, some sportswriters, like myself and Bert Sugar, would make a bee line to the bar to have a few, before we went back to work, if we indeed did go back to work. Frazier would join us sometimes, and he’d regale us with stories about his fights, mostly of his three fights with Muhammad Ali.

Joe Frazier was also a frequent guest at the Downtown Athletic Club at 19 West Street, of which I was a member. The DAC had several yearly sports dinners, and in the late 70’s and early 80’s, the Heisman Trophy Dinner was held at the DAC. I’d run into Frazier at the street level piano bar and we did what we liked to do in those days, have a few drinks. Sometimes we’d go upstairs to the 3rd floor bar, which at one time, was the longest bar in New York City. One night my girlfriend, now my wife Jeanie, asked Joe to autograph a Mets shirt she was wearing. Joe obliged, and I don’t think Jeanie ever washed that shirt afterwards.

One night we were at the DAC drinking so long, Frazier remembered the indoor garage where he had parked his car was closing at 11pm. I left my wife at the bar, and Frazier and I hurried to the garage. They were closing the doors, when we convinced the parking lot workers letting Joe Frazier get his car before they closed was the right thing to do. They agreed and we parked Frazier’s car in an outdoor garage on West Street, right across the street from the DAC. Then we went back inside the club and resumed drinking.

I do remember one incident with Frazier at the San Remo restaurant that will never leave my mind. It was at a press conference for Frazier’s son Marvis’ next fight. Marvis had just been destroyed in less than one minute by the up-and-coming heavyweight sensation Mike Tyson. Marvis was really nothing more than an overstuffed light heavyweight, and a mediocre one at that. Marvis had nowhere near the talent of his father, who is without a doubt, one of the top 10 heavyweights of all time.

At the press conference, while Joe and Marvis were on the dais, I asked a question that went something like, “Marvis, do you think maybe your father is moving you a little too quickly in the heavyweight division?” It was a relevant question; one someone else would have asked if I hadn’t.

After the press conference, while I was standing at the bar, chatting with my friend Larry Venturato. Joe Frazier came over to us. He wasn’t smiling. I was wearing a suit, with a matching tie and pocket handkerchief. Frazier casually took the pocket handkerchief out of my breast pocket. I thought he was going to smack me in the face with it. Instead, Frazier smiled, refolded the pocket handkerchief, then put it back into my breast pocket. Then he said, “Those were some tough questions you were asking there, Joe.”

Then Frazier smiled and had a drink with us.

I had to go immediately to the men’s room to change my diapers.

In 1990, I pretty much got out of the boxing business, and I never ran into Joe again. In 1996, I did get a good kick out of what Joe said when he was asked what he was thinking when Ali was lighting the Olympic torch at the Olympics. Joe said, “I was thinking they should throw him in the fire.”

Pure Joe Frazier. Ali treated Frazier badly when they were fighting, and Joe never forgot the slights. I don’t think they ever fully made up, although Joe said recently, “I forgave him. He’s in a bad way.”

Now Joe Frazier is dead and Ali is a shell of himself, a victim of Parkinson’s disease.

They fought three wars (Ali won two), the last one being the “Thrilla in Manila” in 1976. As Frazier was protesting he wanted to go out for the 15th and final round, Frazier’s trainer Eddie Futch stopped the fight in Frazier’s corner. Ali was so exhausted, that when he heard the fight was over, he collapsed to the canvas. Ali said it was the closest he ever came to dying. Both fighters were immediately rushed to the hospital after the fight.

Former AP Boxing Writer Eddie Schuyler, another scribe who frequented the bars at boxing press conferences, covered the Ali-Frazier fight. Recently Eddie said, “They both should have retired after that fight. They left every bit of talent they had in the ring that day.”

Both fighters fought on for several more years, and I wonder if maybe Ali’s condition today was the result of too many punches to the head, during and after the Thrilla in Manila.

As for Joe Frazier, he died of liver cancer at the age of 67. Joe drank a bit, but I know people who had liver cancer who never touched a drop. So I choose to believe Joe’s death was just an Act of God.

And if you believe in God and the concept of heaven, you can be sure Joe Frazier is up there in a heavenly bar, bending his elbow and regaling everyone with tales about his three fights with Muhammad Ali.

God Bless you Joe Frazier. They’ll never be another fighter like you. Or another man either.


2 Responses to “Joe Bruno on the Mob – Smokin’ Joe Frazier Dies of Liver Cancer”

  1. Tommy G Says:

    Hey Joe, Its’ Tommy, Mikey G’s son from the DAC. I bought that 71 Cadillac Fleetwood Brouhanm from you back in the day. My Dad is living in NJ now, He is 79 going on 18, still crazy. ha ha.

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