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For heavyweight legend George Chuvalo, the ring has always been his safest sanctuary

Chuvalo, a (multiple reigning) Canadian heavyweight champion, would never win a world title but would solidify a reputation as one of the division’s toughest fighters to ever lace up the gloves.

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George Chuvalo
George Chuvalo

Despite facing down some of boxing’s toughest, most thunderous punching heavyweight fighters, Canada’s George Chuvalo would see his time in the ring, in perhaps the division’s greatest era, as a walk in the park compared to his tragedy-filled life out of the ring.

 

The child of Croatian immigrants, Toronto, Canada’s George Chuvalo, after a successful amateur career, would turn professional in 1956. Over the next 22 years, he would go on to face the absolute who’s-who of heavyweight fighters in, perhaps, the division’s greatest era.

 

Chuvalo, a (multiple reigning) Canadian heavyweight champion, would never win a world title but would solidify a reputation as one of the division’s toughest fighters to ever lace up the gloves. By the time Chuvalo retired in 1978, he would have a resume of 93 fights (73-18, 63 KO’s) and opponents including Floyd Patterson, Ernie Terrell, Muhammad Ali, Oscar Bonavena, Joe Frazier, Buster Mathis, Gerry Quarry, George Foreman, Jimmy Ellis, and Cleveland Williams, to name but a few.

 

Challenging some of boxing’s very best, Chuvalo quickly gained a reputation as an iron-tough competitor who, despite stepping into the ring almost 100 times against boxing’s roughest fighters, was never knocked off his feet. And, while he could stare down the fists of any opponent in the ring, it would be life outside the ring that would prove to be the place where he would be brought to his knees more times than any one man deserves.

 

Despite a successful in-ring career, family life for Chuvalo was fraught with struggle and tragedy, especially for his children. Who knows what makes some families able to handle the pressure and notoriety, both good and bad, that comes along with having a famous father?

 

George was once the father of five children before one tragedy after another landed the heaviest of blows on him and his family.

In a story you couldn’t script, Chuvalo discovered the body of his youngest son, Jesse, dead from a gunshot to the head in a 1985 suicide. In 1993, his 2nd son, Georgie Lee, died of a heroin overdose. Just days after that funeral, Chuvalo’s wife Lynne, distraught with grief, committed suicide. Then, 3 years after that tragedy, George’s son Steve died of a heroin overdose. Years of drug addiction had taken the ultimate toll on 2 of his 3 sons and his wife.

 

While Chuvalo had 2 remaining children, the family was still fractured over a battle with his 2nd wife over the rights to care for a now-ailing George and to handle his estate. The children, George used to claim, never accepted his 2nd wife Joanne. And while that created tension in the family dynamic, George understood his children’s feelings. Others reported that George used to claim he wouldn’t have survived without her. Like most stories, there is their side, her side, and the truth.

 

Sadly, George, now into his 80’s, is suffering from dementia and has been deemed medically incapable of weighing in on any of the decisions that will determine the handling of his remaining years.

 

The natural metaphor would be that George has spent much of his life on the ropes in the toughest of fights, in both his former profession, and the tragedies that has beset his life on the safe side of the ropes; and he always came back swinging.

 

George, who hasn’t put on a pair of boxing gloves in 43 years, is again embattled in a fight. This battle appears to have no winners and it is a fight George is incapable of defending himself in. George is in the final rounds of his life. He waged war with some of professional boxing’s toughest warriors and never took a backwards step against any of them.

 

But, those vicious wars paled in comparison to the tragedies he would face as a father and husband outside of the ring.

 

Despite having a reputation as Canada’s toughest customer, Chuvalo, when asked about the tragedy that has besmirched his life stated a few years ago in an interview that, “I am always in mourning,” he said, “I am not made of stone.”

 

Ironically, fans who marveled as George waded through the gauntlet of heavyweight boxing’s most feared fighters assumed he was indeed made of stone. But, life, like father-time, can be vicious.

 

These days, when George wakes each morning, you have to hope he is enjoying some moments of peace – he has earned at least that.

 

 

 

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