Joe Louis (May 13, 1914 – April 12, 1981)
Perhaps better known as the Brown Bomber, Joseph Louis Barris would soon become the heavyweight champion of the world. A title he held for 12 years, a boxing record, and posted
25 successful title defenses. Louis was born near Lafayette, Alabama. He was the 8th child in his family. At age 2, his father was committed to a state hospital. Receiving little education, as a teen Louis worked odd jobs. When his family relocated to Detroit, he worked at the River Rouge plant of the Ford Motor Company. For a while he considered a career in cabinet making. Louis also took violin lessons. At school a friend recommended he try boxing. By 1934 he held the title of National Amateur Athletic Union Light-Heavyweight. His amateur career record was 43 knockouts in 54 matches.
In his first year as a pro, by the end of 1935, he fought 14 matches and won $370,000 in prize money. His first professional defeat was on June 19, 1936 to Max Schmeling, a German boxer and a former heavyweight champion. Louis would himself win that title on June 22. 1937 by defeating Jim Braddock, whom he knocked out in the 8th round. Louis would continue to hold that title for 12 years.
On March 1, 1949, Louis retired. He became broke shortly after. Louis briefly (and miserably) returned, before retiring for good on October 26, 1951. Money was a constant issue for the remainder of his life. He tried wrestling and even set up a chain of interracial food shops. In 1970 Louis’ wife committed him into a Colorado psychiatric hospital due to his paranoia and cocaine addiction. After surgery to correct an aortic aneurism, Louis was confined to a wheelchair. At the time of his death, Louis was working as an “official greeter” at Caesars Palace. Louis died from a heart attack on April 12, 1981 at age 66. Louis was married four times and had two children.
Louis was inducted into the Ring Magazine Boxing Hall of Fame in 1954 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. In 1982 Louis was posthumously awarded a Congressional Gold Medal.