YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Tommy Morrison dies at 44; former heavyweight boxing champion

In 1993, Tommy Morrison beat George Foreman for the WBO heavyweight title. He also played Tommy Gunn in 'Rocky V.' His career was cut short by a positive HIV test in 1996.

September 02, 2013|By Lance Pugmire
  • George Foreman, left, and Tommy Morrison battle in the World Boxing Organization heavyweight title in June 1993, which Morrison won in 12 rounds.
George Foreman, left, and Tommy Morrison battle in the World Boxing Organization… (John Gurzinski, AFP/Getty…)

Former heavyweight boxing champion Tommy Morrison, who starred in the 1990 movie "Rocky V" and later saw his fighting career shortened by a positive HIV test, has died. He was 44.

Morrison died Sunday night at a Nebraska hospital, his former manager, Tony Holden, told the Associated Press. The fighter's family did not disclose the cause.

In 1993, Morrison beat George Foreman for the World Boxing Organization heavyweight belt but soon lost it and a looming $7.5 -million payday to unheralded challenger Michael Bentt. Morrison later lost to another former distinguished heavyweight champion, Lennox Lewis.

"Tommy had a good left hook and quite a bit of ring savvy, and if his opponent was having a little bit of an off night, he'd win," said Bruce Trampler, the matchmaker for the boxing company Top Rank that promoted 27 of Morrison's 52 fights.

However, Morrison "was in obvious decline the last few years," Trampler said.

Nicknamed "The Duke," Morrison was born in 1969 in Gravette, Ark., and grew up in Oklahoma. He enjoyed a strong amateur career that was stopped short of a U.S. Olympic bid in a 1988 loss to Ray Mercer.

The 6-foot-2 boxer won his first 28 professional fights, including a victory over former champion Pinklon Thomas, and played Tommy Gunn opposite Sylvester Stallone in "Rocky V."

After losing to Lewis in October 1995, Morrison tested positive for the virus that causes AIDS in February 1996 in Nevada, where officials who suspended his boxing license later said the positive was "ironclad and unequivocal."

Morrison's trainer, Tommy Virgets, told the Associated Press, "I think there was a time period there when Tommy shopped for women like going into a candy store. Tommy, like so many people, got caught up in it."

Speaking at a news conference in Tulsa, Okla., a few days after the positive test, Morrison acknowledged his promiscuous behavior.

"I lived a permissive, fast and reckless lifestyle," the 27-year-old fighter said. "I hope I can serve as a warning that living this lifestyle can really lead to only one thing and that's misery.... I've never been so stupid in my life. I thought I was bulletproof, and I'm not."

According to Trampler, Morrison was "a man's man — a ladies man even before the film role … big strapping guy, a real charmer, very intelligent."

Beyond the positive HIV test, Morrison was saddled by numerous legal issues, including a prison sentence that stemmed from weapons, drug possession and drunk driving, all of it overshadowing his work in the ring.

When he was released, Morrison said his HIV tests had resulted in false positives, and he wanted to resume his career.

He passed medical tests in Arizona — even as Nevada stood by its decision — and returned to the ring. Morrison fought twice more in his career, winning once in West Virginia and for the final time in Mexico. He finished with a record of 48-3-1 with 42 knockouts.

Information on survivors was unavailable.

Los Angeles Times Articles