Emile Griffith's greatest professional victory came at a huge human cost. It was in a nationally televised March 1962 fight with Cuban boxer Benny "The Kid" Paret. Paret mocked Griffith during the pre-fight weigh-in—they are seen above with Griffith at right—and called him a gay slur. Griffith literally beat Paret into a pulp and punched him 17 times in seven seconds. Paret died ten days later. The bloody boxing match became the basis for a decade-long ban on live, network broadcasts of boxing matches.
The 75-year-old Griffith suffered from pugilistic dementia and died at an extended care facility on Long Island. The cause of death was "kidney failure and complications of dementia," adds the NYT.
In boxing circles, Griffith had been rumored to be gay, and Paret seized on that to needle him at the weigh-in for their third fight. "He called me maricón," Griffith told Peter Heller in 1972 for “In This Corner: Great Boxing Trainers Talk About Their Art,” a book of interviews with boxing champions. "Maricón in English means faggot."
In 1992, Griffith was severely beaten after leaving a gay bar in the Times Square area, his kidneys damaged so badly that he was near death. The assailants were never caught. "That really started a sharp decline in his health,” Ron Ross, his biographer, said on Tuesday.
Over the years, the questions concerning Griffith’s long-rumored homosexuality kept surfacing. "I will dance with anybody," Griffith told Sports Illustrated in 2005. "I’ve chased men and women. I like men and women both."
That same year, he spoke to Bob Herbert, then a columnist for The Times. "I asked Mr. Griffith if he was gay, and he told me no," Mr. Herbert wrote. "But he looked as if he wanted to say more. He told me he had struggled his entire life with his sexuality, and agonized over what he could say about it. He said he knew it was impossible in the early 1960s for an athlete in an ultramacho sport like boxing to say, 'Oh, yeah, I’m gay.'"
The infamous Griffith-Paret fight became the basis of the 2005 documentary Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story.
More recently: On Saturday, June 15, The Opera Theatre of Saint Louis performed the world premiere of legendary jazz trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard’s first opera "Champion." Set to a libretto by Pulitzer Prize-winning Michael Cristofer, Blanchard's "Champion" was inspired by the tragic but little-known story of Emile Griffith.
Griffith retired in 1977 with 85 victories, 24 losses and 2 draws. Griffith was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
In October 2012, Puerto Rican featherweight champion boxer Orlando Cruz came out and become the first openly gay, active fighter in the boxing history.