PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Former heavyweight champion of the world Smokin’ Joe Frazier lost his battle with liver cancer, dying Monday night at the age of 67. Many residents passed by Frazier’s old gym on North Broad street Tuesday morning to pay their respects.
A few friends and fans left stuffed animals outside of his North Philadelphia gym early Tuesday morning in remembrance of the “Champ.”
Frazier adopted Philadelphia as his hometown, staying even after becoming the first fighter to beat Muhammad Ali professionally during the “Fight of the Century” in 1971.
“He was just a guy in the neighborhood. Just a regular guy,” resident Don Simmons reflected. “He took time. You would say, ‘Hey Joe’ and other things and he would wave his hand and he would stand there and talk to you.”
His tough, gritty fighting style was a perfect fit for our city. But as friends and fans said he is being remembered not for his big left hook but instead his big heart.
“He never had anything bad to say about anybody,” said George Richardson who remembers Frazier from the barbershop.
Frazier sold the gym a few years ago. Now, the shadows remain of the letters that spelled “Joe Frazier’s Gym,” almost hidden by bright red lights screaming, “Furniture and Bedding Factory Outlet.”
But even though the gym is closed, and Frazier is gone, friends and fans are sharing their memories and remembering all he did for the neighborhood. Simmons, who lives around the corner from the former gym, hopes the building could become his monument.
“Knowing that he was in North Philly, if they would just honor that building, just put something up in that building, that would be an honor to us. Knowing that he came from this neighborhood,” Simmons said.
Even Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter was among Frazier’s fans. The mayor’s office put out a statement saying, “Joe Frazier was the quintessential Philadelphia boxer. He represented the heart and soul of boxing in our great city. In the ring and in the neighborhoods, he carried himself with dignity and courage. He was a true ambassador for our city. I enjoyed him as a fighter, and I really liked him as a person. The entire city mourns his passing, and we keep him and his family in our prayers.”
Reported by Jim Melwert, KYW Newsradio 1060