Rocky Graziano was one of the most famous and charismatic boxers of the 20th century. He was known for his explosive punching power, his fierce rivalry with Tony Zale, and his colorful personality. He was also a successful actor, starring in the film adaptation of his autobiography, Somebody Up There Likes Me, and appearing in several TV shows and commercials. But how did Rocky Graziano die? What was the cause of his death? Here is a brief overview of his life and his final days.
Early Life and Boxing Career
Rocky Graziano was born Thomas Rocco Barbella on January 1, 1919, in Brooklyn, New York. He grew up in a poor and violent neighborhood, where he learned to fight on the streets. He had a troubled childhood, spending time in reform schools, jails, and the army, where he went AWOL after punching a captain. He started boxing as an amateur under the name Robert Barber, but later changed it to Rocky Graziano to avoid being caught by the military authorities.
Graziano turned professional in 1942 and quickly rose to fame with his knockout victories over many top middleweight contenders. He had a brutal trilogy of fights with Tony Zale, who was the world champion at the time. Graziano lost the first fight by knockout in 1946, but won the second one by knockout in 1947, becoming the new champion. He lost the third and final fight by knockout in 1948, surrendering his title back to Zale. Graziano had one more title shot in 1952, against the legendary Sugar Ray Robinson, but he was stopped in the third round. He retired from boxing in 1953, with a record of 67 wins, 10 losses, and 6 draws, with 52 wins by knockout.
Show Business and Personal Life
After retiring from boxing, Graziano pursued a career in show business. He wrote his autobiography, Somebody Up There Likes Me, with the help of journalist Rowland Barber. The book was a bestseller and was adapted into a film in 1956, starring Paul Newman as Graziano. The film was a critical and commercial success, earning two Academy Awards and launching Newman’s career. Graziano also appeared in several TV shows, such as The Honeymooners, The Martha Raye Show, and Car 54, Where Are You? He also did commercials for products like Rheingold Beer, Mennen Skin Bracer, and Vitalis Hair Tonic. He was known for his humorous and self-deprecating style, often poking fun at his own speech and grammar.
Graziano married Norma Unger in 1943 and had three children with her: Audrey, Thomas, and Roxanne. He was devoted to his family and stayed married to Norma until his death. He was also a generous and charitable man, donating money and time to various causes, especially those related to children and boxing. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990, shortly before his death.
Death and Legacy
Graziano’s health began to decline in the late 1980s. He suffered a stroke in April 1990 and was hospitalized. He never fully recovered and died on May 22, 1990, at the age of 71, from heart and lung failure. He was buried at Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale, New York. His funeral was attended by many celebrities, friends, and fans, who paid tribute to his life and achievements.
Rocky Graziano was one of the most beloved and influential figures in boxing and entertainment history. He overcame a difficult and troubled upbringing to become a world champion and a star. He inspired millions of people with his courage, charisma, and humor. He left behind a legacy of memorable fights, films, and quotes. He was truly a legend in and out of the ring. As he once said, “I’ve had a tough life, but I’ve been a lucky guy.”