View Profile | WWW | E-Mail
Born Joseph Louis Barrow on May 13, 1914, in a shack in the cotton-field country near Lafayette, Ala. The son of an Alabama sharecropper, great grandson of a slave. J
Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight champ, wasn't popular with whites. Louis, on the other hand, converted all into his corner. When "The Brown Bomber" avenged his loss to Germany's Max Schmeling viewed as a Nazi symbol the entire country celebrated, not just African-Americans. Twice he donated his purse to military relief funds.
His championship reign, from 1937 until he retired in 1949, is the longest of any heavyweight. With his powerful left jab, his destructive two-fisted attack he defeated 25 challengers. Louis' fights earned him close to $5 million, but the money went like three-minute rounds, mostly due to his extravagances and generosity. The IRS, conveniently forgetting Louis' generosity during the war, demanded a reported $1.2 million in back taxes, interest and penalties, and he suffered the humiliation of competing as a pro wrestler to help pay his debts.
Following several stays in hospitals for cocaine addiction and paranoia, he became an "official greeter" in Las Vegas. The Moulin Rouge Hotel-Casino opened in 1955 at a time when blacks were not welcomed guests. The Moulin Rouge, frequented by all races, was built to accommodate the growing black population. Joe Louis, the late heavyweight champion of the world, was a Moulin Rouge owner-host. As times and attitudes changed, Louis became a much loved casino host at Caesars Palace on the Strip. Buddy Hacket tells the following story:
Joe showed up in the casino and of course everyone knew he was a gambler who gambled all his money away. Joe was dressed in a black suit, black shirt, white tie and white cowboy hat. While he is walking through the casino people are yelling "Hey Champ, let's shoot some craps. Here is five hundred play it and keep it." Joe replies, "No I am going to Sonny Listons funeral today. I have to go to Sonnys funeral." Another, "Hey Champ here is five hundred." Joe says, "NO NO!" Than they say "Hey Champ, here's five thousand." Joe than says, "Sonny would understand".
Louis spent his last four years in a wheelchair before dying of a heart attack at 66 on April 12, 1981 in Las Vegas. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery at the request of President Ronald Reagan.