Former heavyweight contender Tommy Morrison finally died last night, bringing to an end his 17 year struggle with HIV and a life equally triumphant and tragic. Morrison's story is a metaphor for his time in the ring; an epic tale of opposing forces in combat: a spirit so boundless that it propelled him to overcome insurmountable obstacles with the same ease his Hummer tackled speed bumps locked in an eternal struggle with demons so powerful that they would ultimately cost him his life - and perhaps, someday, the lives of some of those closest to him - when a cure was available to him had he only had the courage to ask for it. Perhaps it was only fitting for a man who was built like a Greek warrior that Tommy Morrison's life should unfold like a Greek tragedy, with his Achilles heel located somewhere between his ears.
Tommy Morrison was a most unlikely heavyweight contender. An unpolished diamond at a time when the heavyweight division still abounded with talent: Tyson, Holyfield, Bowe, Lewis were all still at or near the top of their respective games. A guy who put beer and women first in a sport that requires monk-like devotion to the craft. A - let's just say it - white heavyweight contender at a time when even that idea was reserved for Chris Rock's punchlines. Yet, there he was, a rough and tumble, good looking, blond-haired, relative of John Wayne (hence, his nickname, "The Duke") holding his own with the best of the heavyweight division.
Morrison never won a major heavyweight title, but some of that was just bad luck. He handily defeated George Foreman before Foreman would go on to stun the world by knocking out Michael Moorer. He knocked out Donovan "Razor" Ruddock: one of the most dangerous foes in the sport, best known for his pair of battles with Mike Tyson. Besides an inexplicable first round knockout to the unheralded Michael Bentt, Morrison's only losses were to Lennox Lewis and Ray Mercer. Morrison was always chinny, but he usually got up when he was knocked down. His heart - much bigger than his talent - always leading him into battle whether or not doing so was in his best interest.
In the end, it was that same fearless spirit and zest for life that would be Morrison's undoing. When he tested positive for HIV in 1996, he initially approached it in shockingly mature fashion, accepting his diagnosis and seizing the opportunity to speak out on the dangers of unchecked promiscuity in an era of disease. That didn't last, however. Over the years, Tommy was taken in by HIV denialists - a bizarre collection of discredited scientists, conspiracy theorists, and, most unfortunately, HIV positive patients - who deny the link between the HIV virus and AIDS. Their magnum opus is a wretched "documentary" called House of Numbers, which Tommy watched regularly. Tommy stopped taking his medicine. He continued having unprotected sex. He fought HIV with the same haphazard reckless style he had employed in the ring, but with far less ability to defend himself. The results, unfortunately, were inevitable.
Today, the bell counts ten for Tommy Morrison. A damn good fighter. A uniquely American story of overcoming humble beginnings to reach the top. An all too common story of a man whose recklessness was his own undoing. Another victim of a disease that continues to take millions of lives each year, even in an era when most of us think that it has been cured. A tragic story of wasted opportunities and lives ruined for nothing. In death, we can only hope that Tommy Morrison finds something he never seemed to find in life: a break from the fighting. A chance to rest in peace.