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OBITUARIES : Joey Giardello, 1930 - 2008

Boxer who sued over his movie depiction

September 07, 2008|Claire Noland | Times Staff Writer

Joey Giardello, a former middleweight boxing champion who won a decision over Rubin Carter in 1964 and then sued over how the fight was depicted in the 1999 film "The Hurricane," has died. He was 78.

Giardello died Thursday of congestive heart failure at a nursing home in Cherry Hill, N.J., the International Boxing Hall of Fame announced.

Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1993, Giardello had a 101-25-7 record with 33 knockouts while fighting from 1948 to 1967.

The 5-foot-10, 160-pound boxer captured the middleweight title at the relatively late age of 33, defeating favored Dick Tiger of Nigeria in a 15-round bout Dec. 7, 1963, in Atlantic City, N.J.

He successfully defended the belt against Carter in a unanimous decision in Philadelphia the next year before relinquishing it to Tiger in 1965. Two years later, he retired from the ring. Giardello followed a tortuous path to boxing's pinnacle, and his life outside the ring was marked by colorful episodes.

Born Carmine Tilelli in Brooklyn, N.Y., on July 16, 1930, he borrowed the identity of one Joseph Giardello to join the Army in 1946. After honing his boxing skills in the service, Giardello settled on the south side of Philadelphia and worked his way up the middleweight ranks.

A relentless fighter, Giardello might have reached the top of his game sooner had he followed a more rigorous training regimen than one that included a little running, a little punching and a lot of macaroni and cheese and beer. "I was a natural," he told Sports Illustrated in 1998. "I wouldn't train. I just fought."

In 1955, one of those fights landed him in jail for four months. His opponent was a South Philly gas station attendant.

The high point of Giardello's career came in 1963, when he beat Sugar Ray Robinson, and then Tiger in the championship match. But the lasting memories fixate on the Carter fight.

Although most contemporary observers and boxing historians agree it was a hard-fought contest won by Giardello, Carter has come out ahead in some accounts.

"The Hurricane," directed by Norman Jewison and starring Denzel Washington, tells the story of Carter, a black man who was unjustly imprisoned for the murder of three white people before his conviction was overturned and he was released. In the film, the decision favoring Giardello, who is white, appears to be racially motivated and unfair.

Giardello filed a federal lawsuit claiming defamation and eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. The DVD version of the film included commentary by the director noting that liberties were taken in the fight scenes.

After retiring, Giardello worked as an insurance salesman, then as an inspector for the New Jersey Department of Weights and Measures.

Survivors include his wife of 58 years, Rosalie; and four sons, Carmine, Joseph, Paul and Steven, who use the surname Tilelli.

"It don't bother me none," Giardello told the Post-Standard of Syracuse, N.Y., in 1993. "Everything is in order. My kids? Tilelli. The deed on the house? Tilelli. Tax returns? Tilelli. Me? Giardello. I don't care."

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claire.noland@latimes.com

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