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Death of a Fighter : Boxer, Trainer, Pritikin Acolyte, as Taut at 65 as He Was at 30, Eddie Andrade Embodied the Fitness Movement. Then His Sweat Suit-Clad Body Washed Ashore in Santa Barbara. 'Too Much Pain' Read the Note He Keft Behind. Or Was This His Way of Beating Death to the Punch?

October 29, 1995|Michael Fessier, Jr. | Michael Fessier, Jr. is a writer living in Santa Barbara. His last piece for the Magazine was on the killing of Malibu recluse Donal Scott in a drug raid

"Eddie," we would say, "you're looking good , man." And Eddie Andrade would smile behind his jazz musician's goatee--a smile that said he knew important things you didn't--and say it right back to us on another perfect blue-sky day at the city college stadium in Santa Barbara where we all ran and worked out.

But the truth was, Eddie always looked better. Much better. The man had style--his sweats were always color-coordinated and so spruce that we accused him of pressing them--and he carried about him an aura of affable superiority. He'd been a successful boxer in the Air Force (150 wins, 84 of them knockouts, and only one loss) and even now, in his 60s, still had the lean, quick body of a fighter at the top of his game. He owned no car and went everywhere on a bike he groomed like a cavalryman's horse--to the martial arts studios and boxing clubs, where he tutored a select group of clients that included actor Fred Ward, to the swimming pools, weight rooms and running tracks.

Eddie and Santa Barbara were a perfect match. This is, after all, a city where the downtown library carries 374 volumes under "Physical Fitness" while "Christianity" gets along with 270; where, if the Church of Ultimate Fitness is not headquartered, it is certainly well attended; and where the dream of achieving what Jack London called "transcendence through the physical"-- creating a kind of impregnable fortress within one's own physical being--is truly taken to heart.

Eddie Andrade certainly did. And the odd thing, the truly astounding thing, was how close he actually came to achieving it.. It was as if Eddie was the genuine article, the fitness fanatic who'd won the big bet, the man on whom age hadn't laid a glove. Eddie was the guywho could enjoy all those years that apostate Americans--the smokers and beer drinkers and gluttons--had thrown away, gorging themselves into early graves.

Then, at just the moment he seemed to have won, Eddie Andrade quit the game and left the arena for good.


Eddie's suicide on the night of May 18, 1993, reached the city college running track two days later. We were stunned. It was, on the face of it, not credible: Eddie? His method--a bullet to the temple while standing on a bluff above the pounding Pacific--made it all the more unlikely. For all his pride--he liked to pull from his ever-present black fanny pack a moldering clip from the Los Angeles Times sports page, showing him, at 18, standing over the fallen body of Arturo Cruz in the first round of the Olympic welterweight boxing trials--Eddie always had a self-effacing side. His death seemed almost operatic, as if at the end he was attempting a communication that we were not able to grasp.

Eddie had left his bike at his mid-city apartment and taken a cab to Shoreline Park, on the mesa up the hill from where we ran. He arrived just after sundown and walked across the grass to a spot called Lookout Point--a kind of scenic overlook built into a break in the chain-link fence that runs along the cliff. He wore his usual sweats and Windbreaker, the gray Adidas and the fanny pack around his waist, though this time he'd brought only some money, a card identifying him as a member of the Neptune Burial Society and a .380 Italian semiautomatic army pistol.

The tide was high against the rocks 50 feet below, and there was no moon. No one can say how long Eddie stood there--the rollerbladers, Frisbee gymnasts, runners and fast-walkers clutching sacred bottles of mineral water were gone. There were no witnesses and no one heard the shot. Still, it's hard to imagine Eddie standing there long. He was decisive in all things and had come to accomplish a task. He wanted to die, and that's what he did. "Based on the scene and circumstances and the history of the victim and his concern about his physical being . . .in conjunction with the note found at the apartment this death will be classified as a suicide," the coroner's report noted. The time of death was placed between 8 at night, when Eddie arrived at the park, and 7:30 the next morning, when his body was found by two joggers where the tide had taken it a quarter mile down the beach.

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