The life of Emile Griffith, the bisexual boxer who killed an opponent, is now an opera.
In 1962 March, Griffith fought welterweight champion Benny ‘The Kid’ Paret in a nationally televised bout. At the weigh-in, the champion whispered an anti-gay slur in the challenger’s ear.
At the time, 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 a coma. Ten days later he died.
Jazz composer Terence Blanchard was inspired to compose the opera Champion after reading the following line in Griffith’s autobiography: ‘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.’
‘I was just compelled by the whole notion of a person who could be that accomplished and not really share the moment of winning the championship with somebody that he loved,’ Blanchard said to the Washington Post ‘I immediately thought of the first time I won a Grammy. My wife was with me and I turned around and kissed her without thinking about it.’
‘It speaks volumes of where we are as a society and how we need to really check ourselves, especially those of us who call ourselves compassionate human beings,’ the composer continued.
Champion will have its first performance tonight (15 June) at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis. Benny Paret, Jr and Griffith’s adopted son, Luis Rodrigo, are expected in the audience.
Griffith, who is now 75-years-old, suffers from from dementia. He requires constant care and resides in a nursing home in Long Island, New York.