By James Slater: According to a number of boxing web sites (I read the sad news on SecondsOut.com), former WBC heavyweight king Ken Norton suffered a stroke earlier today and is in a stable condition in hospital. Ironically, today is Kenny’s birthday – either his 69th or, according to other records, his 67th.
Norton, famous for busting Muhammad Ali’s jaw in that 1973 upset that saw the former Marine beat the draft dodger (oh, how the media loved to play that line), has been in bad health for some time now. After getting out of boxing in 1981, with his health intact, Norton suffered an horrific car crash in 1986. Ken fought hard and confounded the doctors who said he would never walk again, appearing on numerous T.V shows with old rivals Ali, Larry Holmes, George Foreman and fellow great Joe Frazier during the early 1990’s Champions Forever tour.
Norton spoke then with slurred speech, yet it was as a result of the car crash that did its damnedest to kill him, not punches he took in the ring. Yet as the years caught up with him, the former body beautiful who had arguably the best physique in the sport’s long history began to slow down. Suffering a heart attack and two previous strokes, Norton, though still appearing in public (I met Kenny only this May, in Las Vegas at a book signing), could speak only with a whisper and he could get around only by motorised mobility scooter.
This latest blow to his remaining health may take some beating. Reports are pretty thin (amazing considering the fact that we are talking about a heavyweight great and Hall of Famer. How quickly the media can forget certain sporting greats), but Norton is said to be being fed through tubes in hospital. All we can do is hope and pray that the man who served his country in the 1960s and who boxed as a pro in the ‘60s, ‘70’s and 80’s, and who even went on to star in a couple of movies, is as comfortable as is humanly possible.
Norton was and is one of boxing’s good guys. That car crash could have happened to anyone, but at the same time, I can’t help thinking how things should have been so much better for the warrior born in Jacksonville, Illinois.
Get well soon, Kenny!
Norton’s biggest ring wins: WSD 12 Muhammad Ali 1973, WTKO5 Jerry Quarry 1975, WTKO1 Duane Bobick 1977, WSD12 Jimmy Young 1977. Norton also lost close, debatable decisions to Ali (twice) and Holmes.