Jerry Quarry: My heritage was ‘The Grapes of Wrath

29.11.06 – By Ted Sares: Everything that could possibly be written about Irish Jerry Quarry’s life seems to have been written, and I am not about to add to the duplication. But one thing has haunted me since 1992. But let’s set the stage, Jerry earned over $2 million as a fighter without ever being champion.

After losing to Ken Norton in 1975, he took two years off and then fought Lorenzo Zanon, 20-3-1 coming in, on November 5, 1977 at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. After having lost first 8 rounds, he made a desperate rally in the 9th and stopped the limited Italian by simply walking through him

His skills had badly eroded and it was painful to watch even though he won. Six years later Jerry tried to return as a cruiserweight and won two fights but it was obvious his skills were now gone completely.

The first signs of his downfall began to appear In 1983. While researching a magazine article about the health problems of retired boxers, a Sports Illustrated reporter visited Quarry, then 37 and training for another comeback attempt. Though the boxer appeared to be in good health, his performances on several simple cognitive tests were shockingly poor. This was the harbinger for the mental decline that destroyed the last part of his life, dementia pugilistica, the atrophy of the brain from repeated blows to the head, eventually leading to an Alzheimer’s-like state

In 1992, Jerry inexplicably fought one final time. Believing he could make a comeback as George Foreman had, he took a bout in Colorado, a state where no boxing license was required. This “comeback” bout was for the disgraceful low prize money of $1,050 and he took a savage and ferocious six-round pounding by an unknown club-fighter named Ron Cranmer, 3-4-1 coming in. He lost a decision in which he stood in the middle of the ring and took one hammering punch after another. It would be his last fight. He was 47 at the time. From there, Jerry began his horrific and irreversible slide into oblivion, but it’s seems reasonable to assume he may have been extremely damaged goods going into the Colorado fight and that the awful slide had begun well before that fateful fight.

Within a few years, he was unable to feed or dress himself and had to be cared for by relatives, mainly his brother James, the only one of the four brothers not to box professionally. He spent his final years debilitated by boxing-induced brain damage and died on January 3, 1999 way before his time at age 53. A foundation now works in his honor to battle the condition that shortened his life.

Now nothing I have said so far is particularly new, but there is one thing that disturbingly never seems to get written about…and that focuses on that last ill-advised fight in Colorado. Why has no one ever investigated the circumstances surrounding it and why has nothing been written about it other than the result? Hell, why was it even allowed? Perhaps there are some lessons to be learned by further investigation….or maybe it’s best to let things be.

Just four years after this fight, Pete Hamill wrote, “Today, at fifty-one, Quarry is a shell of a man, his mind gone, lost to dementia pugilistica, his millions of dollars in earnings long vanished. Steve Wilstein of the Associated Press found him last year in Hemet, California, where Quarry was living with a brother on $614 a month from Social Security. Wilstein wrote: “He needs help shaving, showering, putting on shoes and socks. Soon, probably, diapers. His older brother, James, cuts meat into little pieces for him so he won’t choke and has to coax him to eat anything except the Apple Cinnamon Cheerios he loves in the morning. Jerry smiles like a kid. Shuffles like an old man. Slow, slurred speech. Random thoughts snagged on branches in a dying brain. Time blurred. Memories twisted. Voices no one else hears.”

Wilstein talked to Dr. Peter Russell, a neurophysiologist who examined Quarry last year. Russell said: Jerry Quarry now has the brain of an eighty-year-old. He’s at third-stage dementia, very similar to Alzheimer’s. If he lives another ten years, he’ll be lucky.” (From “Blood on Their Hands The Corrupt and Brutal World Of Professional Boxing,”

Esquire Magazine – June 1, 1996).

As it turned out, Jerry was not lucky.

So in just 4 years, from the time of his last fight at age 47 until age 51, he had become an invalid. The entire and tragic time line looked like this:

In 1975, he fought and lost badly to Ken Norton.

He retired for two years.

In 1977 he won a dreadful come-from-behind victory over Lorenzo Zanon.

In 1983, while researching a magazine article about the health problems of retired boxers, a Sports Illustrated reporter visited Quarry, then 37 and training for a comeback attempt. Though the boxer appeared to be in good health, his performances on several simple cognitive tests were shockingly poor. This was the harbinger for pugilstica dementia that would eventually destroy him.

In 1983, he won two fights against mediocre opposition.

In 1992, after nine years and at age 47, he fought and lost to unknown Ron Cranmer in Colorado.

By 1996, at age 51, he was an invalid.

In 1999, he passed away at the age of 53

This good-looking Irish kid with a nice smile and an engaging boy-next-door manner and California way was one of my favorite warriors. His hardscrabble heritage was the hot dusty farms of “The Grapes of Wrath” and that was part of his appeal. He was “Mr. Charisma.” He was gritty, real and fun to watch. He deserved better. If there is a heaven for boxers, Jerry is there.

Theses days, when I watch Evander Holyfield try to recapture the magic, I think back to Aurora, Colorado. When I think about Tony Tubbs fighting at age 48, I think about watching Muhammad Ali, a shell of the man he once was, enter Madison Square Garden to cheers on the night of the Brock-Klitchko fight. I wonder why Saul Mamby was allowed to fight at age 53.

The thing is, boxers are not reborn at the age of 44 or 48. A George Foreman or Archie Moore comes along only once in a great while, and Evander is not George Foreman or Archie Moore, nor is Tony Tubbs. Moreover, it’s ring years that are important; not chronological ones and in ring years Holyfield is much older than Foreman.

“I know this … a man got to do what he got to do.”

The Grapes of Wrath Chapter 18

“A 30ish man named Nigel stood at the bar of the Deluxe Bar & Grill on Capitol Hill. He spoke with an English accent and said he used to be a boxer. He had the build of one. “I was pretty good,” the former light heavyweight said. “Went 12-6. Eight knockouts. “I didn’t have great balance. I’m white and from England. But I was persistent and I could hit hard.”

“It was noted to him that he got out of the game in time – that it was sad to see the former heavyweight contender Jerry Quarry on television brain-damaged and barely able to speak.

“Yeah,” he nodded. “But at least people know the name Jerry Quarry. You see a lot of people like that at the gym. They’re in the same shape, but nobody knows their name. People give them jobs to carry water around and stuff.” Kery Murakami.