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Quarry dead at 53: 'He won the last fight of his life'

SportsLine wire reports
Jan. 3, 1999

TEMPLETON, Calif. -- Jerry Quarry, a popular heavyweight who fought Muhammad Ali and Floyd Patterson then eventually lapsed into a punch-drunk fog, died Sunday after being taken off life support. He was 53. was hospitalized Dec. 28 with pneumonia and then suffered cardiac arrest while at Twin Cities Community Hospital. He died at 3:52 p.m. after family members directed doctors to remove life support, according to Claude Sutherland, a longtime family friend.

"It was a family decision to take him off life support when they were told he would probably be bedridden," Sutherland said. "They're pretty distraught."

Quarry, who earned $2.1 million in purses as a top contender in the 1960s and '70s, later was living on Social Security checks. By the age of 50, the pounding he had taken in the ring turned him into a confused, childlike man whose relatives had to take care of him.

"He won the last fight of his life by going home to God," Quarry's mother, Arwanda, said through Sutherland.

THE MEDICAL NAME FOR his condition was dementia pugilistica, severe brain damage caused by repeated blows to the head.

Among the highlights of Quarry's career were two fights against Patterson, the former heavyweight champion. Both bouts were in Quarry's hometown of Los Angeles, and the first ended in a draw and he won the second on a controversial split decision.

Quarry, a 6-foot, 195-pound blond who seemed to be easy to cut, earned his biggest payday, $338,000, by fighting Ali when Ali returned from his banishment in 1970.

Early in the fight in Atlanta, the two butted heads and a gash opened above Quarry's left eye. Ali peppered the spot with jabs, spraying blood, and stopped Quarry in three rounds.

Quarry futilely pleaded with the referee not to stop it.

Ali cut Quarry again to win a rematch in seven rounds, and Joe Frazier bloodied him badly in the second of their two fights, winning in five at Madison Garden in 1974.

QUARRY TURNED TO COCAINE and alcohol on the downslope of his career, dulling his reflexes and leaving him virtually defenseless in the ring. He finished his pro career with a 53-9-4 record after having fighting more than 200 bouts as an amateur.

"I'd do it all again, same way," he said three years ago.

Neurological tests revealed early signs of dementia in 1982, before his short-term memory loss and motor skills deteriorated so noticeably and before his last three fights.

A neuropsychologist who examined him five years ago said that boxing had aged the boxer 30 years and that he was at third-stage dementia, similar to Alzheimer's.

In 1992, Quarry fought for one final time. Believing he could make a comeback as George Foreman had, he took a bout in Colorado, a state where no boxing license was required.

BUT QUARRY WAS BATTERED for six rounds by a club fighter. "Irish Jerry" Quarry's payday for absorbing the beating was $1,050.

"He was missing the accolades," Jerry's brother James said three years ago. "In making those comebacks, Jerry would walk around saying, `I'm going to be a hero again."'

He is survived by three children; four sisters; three brothers, including Jimmy and Mike, who were fighters; and parents, Jack and Arwanda Quarry.

A funeral was scheduled for Saturday in Shasta.