By Dee Longfellow

For The Addison Independent

“He’s still the greatest, I’m just the latest.”

That’s what boxer Leon Spinks had to say about world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, after he shocked the world in 1978 in Las Vegas by taking the title from the ageing champion in what was only Spinks’ eighth professional fight.

He was also unfortunately a classic example of a rags-to-riches star, who lost his fortune on years of booze, drugs and partying.

Leon Spinks, a former resident of Addison, passed away from cancer on Saturday, Feb. 6 at the age of 67. He was born July 11, 1953, in St. Louis, Mo., one of eight children brought up by his mother Kay in the city’s notorious Pruitt-Igoe housing project, a location riddled with drugs, crime and gangs.

Spinks once recalled how his father had beaten him as a boy and taunted him by saying: “You’ll never be nothin’.” Those words would inspire Spinks in his quest for success as a boxer. He and his younger brother Michael learned to box at a nearby recreation center. Michael would also go on to become a world heavyweight champion, beating Larry Holmes in 1985.

Both brothers enjoyed success at the amateur level, culminating with gold medals for the U.S. at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.

Leon, who had dropped out of school to join the U.S. Marines, was a three-time Marines champion and won a bronze medal in the World Championship of 1974. He earned a silver the following year in the Pan American Games in Mexico, before his Olympic triumph as a light heavyweight, while Michael won the middleweight title.

Spinks’ gap-toothed smile, which later became famous across the world, came about during his military service.

“I got headbutted while sparring in the Marines, one or two got loose and they pulled them out,” he said.

Lavish lifestyle doesn’t help boxing career

“I had no control of myself outside of the ring,” Spinks said. “All I cared about was going to the next party and who was I going to get high with? My life was cocaine, weed, cars and women. And I enjoyed it.”

By the time of the agreed rematch with Ali in New Orleans, Spinks had acquired Mr. T as his personal bodyguard, who would go on to appear in the television show The A-Team and the movie Rocky III. While Spinks partied hard – often seen in a full-length fur coat reportedly worth $45,000 — Ali prepared meticulously for the rematch.

At the New Orleans Superdome, 63,350 people packed in for a fight that was broadcast to 80 countries across the world. This time Ali emerged as a clear winner on points.

It is believed Spinks earned less than $300,000 from the first fight with Ali and $3.5M for the rematch, but he was never destined to reach such heights again. He unsuccessfully challenged Holmes for the WBC title in 1981, when he was stopped in three rounds; and fought Dwight Muhammad Qawi for the WBA cruiserweight crown in 1986, which Qawi won in the sixth.

Spinks quit boxing in 1995 at age 42. In contrast to his brother, who retired on $13.5M after losing his title to Mike Tyson in 1988, Leon became a peripheral figure earning relatively insignificant sums. His career record shows 26 wins, 17 losses and three draws.

In the 1990s, Spinks lived in Addison during which time, he was charged with DUI after causing a three-car accident in 1992, which netted him probation and community service.

Spinks was married three times and divorced twice. He found some order to his chaotic lifestyle with third wife Brenda Glur. They moved to Las Vegas, where Spinks made money selling autographs and photos to fans.

He is survived by Brenda and by two sons, Cory and Darrell, from an early relationship with Zadie Mae Calvin, with whom he grew up in St. Louis. A third son with Zadie Mae, Leon Jr., was killed in a shooting in 1990. Both Cory and Darrell became boxers, with Cory holding world titles at welterweight and junior middleweight. His grandson Leon Spinks III was also a professional fighter.

 

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