Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Short, Sad Life of Tommy Morrison Once the Heavyweight Champion, Morrison's Downhill Slide Finally Ends

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Short, Sad Life of Tommy Morrison Once the Heavyweight Champion, Morrison's Downhill Slide Finally Ends

Article excerpt

LAS VEGAS

Tommy Morrison was just a few hours away from a comeback bout that was supposed to lead him to Mike Tyson when he got the news inside the crowded casino at the MGM Grand hotel.

Chances are he already knew what was coming. A few days earlier he had refused to take a blood test mandated by Nevada boxing authorities, citing religious objections. He took it only after being told that without it he would not fight.

Morrison had tested positive for the HIV virus. Instead of fighting for the heavyweight title, he would now be in for the fight of his life.

It seemed impossible. The blonde Adonis who had beaten the fearsome George Foreman for the heavyweight title and starred with Sylvester Stallone in "Rocky V" was too fit, too strong, to carry the dreaded virus. Magic Johnson testing positive a few years earlier was shocking enough, but now a heavyweight contender with HIV, too?

Morrison quickly got on a plane back to his native Oklahoma. The fights that night went on without him, and the crowd booed when told he wasn't fighting for undisclosed medical reasons.

Morrison would end up living another 17 years before he died Sunday night in a Nebraska hospital at the age of 44. But life as he knew it was over.

There would be no Tyson fight. No more multimillion dollar paydays. No more movies with Stallone.

"This is not a death sentence, by any means," he insisted a few months later.

But for the troubled Morrison, it was. He spent much of the remainder of his life in a fog of drugs and denial. Occasionally he would resurface, like he did in 2007 when he tried to resurrect his career at age 38 in a fight for a few hundred dollars at a racetrack in West Virginia.

He had once blamed his HIV diagnosis on a fast and reckless lifestyle. Now he made an even more outlandish claim - that he never had the virus.

"The bottom line is we passed every test on the market, even one they don't have on the market," Morrison told me a few days before the fight in West Virginia. "That tells me it was never there."

Drugs and denial. They combined to kill Morrison just as surely as the HIV he claimed he never had. …

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