Emile Griffith, the bisexual boxer who tragically killed a man in a title bout, died today (23 June). He was 75.
According to the New York Times the cause of death was kidney failure and complications of dementia.
In 1962 March, Griffith fought welterweight champion Benny ‘The Kid’ Paret in a televised match. At the weigh-in, the champion whispered an anti-gay slur in the challenger’s ear.
Griffith’s sexuality was whispered about, he was a regular at gay bars near Times Square, but most accepted the straight script offered by handlers.
In the fight’s 12th round, Griffith pummeled Paret in the head at least 24 times. When the referee finally stopped the fight, the champion wasn’t defending himself.
Paret was transported to hospital, where he lapsed into coma. Ten days later he died.
‘I hope he isn’t hurt,’ Griffith was quoted as saying in his dressing room after the fight, as reported by the New York Times. ‘I pray to God — I say from my heart — he’s all right.’
Although he had a successful career, Griffith won the welterweight title three times, the middleweight title twice and briefly held the junior middleweight title, he was haunted by that March night.
In 1990, he was inducted in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
A marriage to a woman ended in divorce. In a 2005 interview, with the magazine Sports Illustrated, he confessed to being attracted to both men and women.
‘I will dance with anybody,’ Griffith said, as reported by the New York Times, ‘I’ve chased men and women. I like men and women both. But I don’t like that word: homosexual, gay or faggot. I don’t know what I am. I love men and women the same, but if you ask me which is better … I like women.’
Jazz composer Terence Blanchard was inspired to write the opera Champion after reading the following line in a biography about the boxer:
‘I kill a man and most people understand and forgive me. However, I love a man, and to so many people this is an unforgivable sin; this makes me an evil person.’
Last month, Benny Paret, Jr and Griffith’s adopted son, Luis Rodrigo, attended the opera’s premiere.