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BILL DWYRE

Oscar De La Hoya fights this foe one day at a time

After finally coming to terms about his alcoholism, the former boxing world champion and now a promoter checks into a rehab center and tries to beat as formidable an opponent as he faced in the ring.

August 31, 2011|Bill Dwyre
  • April 14, 2009 Oscar De La Hoya gets emotional next to his wife Millie Corretjer after announcing his retirement during a press conference at L.A. Live.
April 14, 2009 Oscar De La Hoya gets emotional next to his wife Millie Corretjer… (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)

Legendary boxer Oscar De La Hoya has a message for a sports world that idolized and doted on him.

"Hi. I'm Oscar De La Hoya and I'm an alcoholic."

So, we have tarnish on the Golden Boy. The fighter who carried the sport for nearly a decade, who proved you didn't have to be a heavyweight to appeal to the masses, who generated nearly $700 million in pay-per-view revenue before retiring at 36 in 2009, is telling all.

We never thought he was a choir boy. There have been stories of boozing and womanizing along the way. But he was a boxer. You don't expect St. Peter.

Still, this week's revelation deserves the attention of the sports world because it is a world where the toughest truths are seldom uttered.

The truth, and nothing but the truth, begins its unraveling on the first tee of the Ojai Valley Inn golf course. Pose for a photo, the starter says. OK now, everybody say "whiskey."

De La Hoya says, "Water."

The tone is set. It will be 18 holes and 6,292 yards of introspection. The horrible details, the pain, anger and depth of despair, bring insignificance to the shanks and three-putts.

"I haven't been truly sober since I was 8," De La Hoya says, recalling how he was a waiter at family functions, brought beer to the men and was encouraged to take a sip.

"A sip sounds harmless," he says. "But after about 20, you are drunk.

"I remember the first time, when I passed out. My mother whacked me pretty good, but the men seemed fine with it."

Until he entered the Promises rehab center in Malibu three months ago, De La Hoya had been fighting the influence of alcohol for 30 years. That meant through 10 world titles in six weight divisions, through a 39-6 pro record, even through a transition to corporate executive of the promotion company he founded and for which he is the president. Until three months ago, the man behind the big oak desk in the downtown offices of Golden Boy Promotions was fooling us all and hating himself for it.

"It's a monster so big I cannot describe it," he says.

Then he tries.

"It was bad. I'm surprised it hasn't killed me," he says. "Some people can drink. I can't. In the last few years, it always ended up the same way. I'd black out.

"My best friend, Eric [Gomez, matchmaker and vice president of Golden Boy], would be with me, have a couple of beers and stop. I'd always be the one saying we should have a few more. But if I said I was going to have two, it would always turn out to be 10. Ten wasn't enough. A thousand wasn't enough."

Rock bottom occurred three months ago, after a party in Los Angeles to celebrate a business arrangement with a Golden Boy sponsor. The sponsor was a brand of tequila.

"I had a driver, thank God," De La Hoya says. "I remember waking up and looking around and I was in the back seat of the car, we were on the street near my downtown office and I had a cocktail glass in my hand. I felt awful, the whole scene was awful. I had been there too many times before. I called my wife, she told me to just come home. I threw the glass out the window and it smashed on the street."

He was sent to the other room to sleep, as usual, and when he awoke, he knew there was no more messing with the monster.

"I'd been to rehabs before," he says, "but this time, I was the one who wanted to go. This time, I was scared."

He had researched Promises and checked himself in the next morning. His program was a one-month commitment. He says 20 patients started and only eight made it to the end.

"I told one of the counselors that I can win this fight," De La Hoya says. "He told me, 'You're not going to win this fight. You are going to survive this fight.' "

When his month was over, De La Hoya asked for three more weeks.

"I was afraid to come out," he says.

He says he never stopped drinking. When he was an amateur, en route to his Olympic gold medal at Barcelona in 1992, he says he was the one talking the others into going out for a few beers. He says the drinking never stopped during his pro career — even during training for a fight — and got worse when he became a business executive and fight promoter.

"I'd go to my room before I had to make an appearance, or a speech," he says, "and I'd have a few drinks, just to loosen up."

He is married to Millie Corretjer, a former star pop singer from Puerto Rico. They have two children, Oscar, 5, and Nina, 3. His says his family is his constant reminder to stop and smell the roses.

"I'm up to five days a week of playing tea time with Nina," he says. "They visited me one day at Promises, and Nina and I sat and watched a snail for about five minutes. That's all. Just a snail."

On the 17th tee, a friendly wager seems in order.

"Loser on this hole buys the ice tea," De La Hoya says.

His brother, Joel, smiles and says, "It used to be 'Loser buys the shots.' "

De La Hoya says golf is one of his therapies, then proves it by shooting 77. He says he is happier than he has been in 30 years. His formula seems perfectly scripted for any addiction.

He is healing, not hiding.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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