Frazier tribute was long overdue
September 08, 2015 3:00 AM
by Mark Mayer
There’s something awful and yet wonderful about Philly fans, who would boo mom, apple pie and even Mike Schmidt. They never booed Joe Frazier.
Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, so much a part of this city’s heritage, can officially add Joe Frazier to its list of historical landmarks. Has a nice ring to it.
This Saturday afternoon at Patterson Ave. where the Spectrum used to be, a statue of Joe Frazier will be dedicated.
Gene Kilroy, Joe’s close friend, will lay a wreath at Joe gravesite the day before and will stay on to see the statue’s unveiling. Before Gene flew to Philadelphia we sat and talked about Joe as few knew him. Yes there was the infamous feud and epic fights with Muhammad Ali, but in the end they patched things up when Joe died nearly four years ago at age 67.
Gene was Ali’s business manager and also associated for years with the Philadelphia Eagles organization so he was privy like no other to both Frazier and Ali. His words speak volumes and go where few writers have ever been.
“I was very honored and humbled to be invited by the Frazier family to dedicate this statue,” Kilroy said. “City of brotherly love, brother what took you so long putting the statue up? There was nobody more deserving. He lived his life taking things head-on. There was no reverse. It wasn’t about ego with Joe, but we go.”
What most people don’t know is that without the influence of Bobby Carmody, the Frazier legacy would have likely been made in a meat factory instead of the boxing ring.
“Bobby Carmody was a remarkable man, the only fighter to win an Olympic medal and die in the service for his country,” Kilroy said. “They should do his life story. He connected me with Joe Frazier and we became good friends.”
Carmody was only 29 when he died. It was he who convinced Frazier not to quit boxing after Joe lost a decision to Buster Mathis Sr. in the Olympic Trials and failed to make the USA team.
“Joe was so disgusted and Bobby told him that he didn’t have to go through this, that it wasn’t the end of the world.” Kilroy said. “He said something was going to happen, that Joe was great.”
And something did.
Buster broke his hand and couldn’t represent the USA at the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo. Frazier as the alternate went and won the gold medal. Carmody took the bronze as a flyweight and was later killed in Vietnam.
“I became good friends with Bobby when I was with the Eagles,” Kilroy said. “He was knocking guys out as a street fighter in Brooklyn. Just a great kid who made the choice to either go to jail or fight.”
When Kilroy left the Eagles he started working with Ali and there began the eventual connection with Frazier.
“I remember Ali was getting ready for the (third) Frazier fight and talking about Joe,” he said. “I’m fighting the Gorilla in Manila. Joe told me Ali shouldn’t say things like that.”
Frazier had won the memorable first fight at Madison Square Garden and Kilroy, in Ali’s corner, knew his guy had no shot that night.
“Nobody would have beat him — King Kong, Foreman, anybody,” Kilroy said. “Joe was zeroed in. His goals were set. He was going to do it.”
Ali wound up with a swollen jaw, while Frazier was in the hospital for a week.
“I got a call from Budd Schulberg (famed novelist, TV producer and sports writer) saying he heard Joe was dying,” Kilroy said. “I said that was false. Ali told me that if Joe dies, he would never fight again. Ali had compassion. He felt bad later for what had happened between him and Joe.”
Frazier held a grudge over the verbal attacks for years, but began to forgive Ali when seeing Muhammad carry the torch at the 1996 Olympic Summer Games in Atlanta.
“I told Joe we would sit in the park one day, the three of us, and talk about it,” Kilroy said. “It never came to pass but they did patch it up. Joe was a man of the people, loved by all. The Kerkorians wanted to do something for Joe in Las Vegas but Joe was a man of the people and people in Philly wanted to put together the statue.”
The wreath Gene is bringing with him from Muhammad came with the words, “Joe, rest in peace till we meet again. Next time we are not going to fight. We are going to hug.”
Joe would have liked that as well as Bobby.
Encore: Floyd Mayweather paid for Joe’s funeral in 2011. “Fighters look out for each other. They are all brothers.” Kilroy said. Gene was invited to the ceremony in Philly by the Frazier family. Weatta Frazier Collins, Joe’s daughter, is putting it together. Son Marvis Frazier, who once fought for the heavyweight title, will also attend.