The lucid moments for Jerry Quarry were few and far between after 1995, when the former heavyweight contender was first diagnosed as suffering from dementia pugilistica, a fancy term for being punch-drunk after some 30 years of boxing.
It was on one of those rare days when Quarry, who had traded punches with Floyd Patterson, Joe Frazier and twice with Muhammad Ali, penned a short poem to commemorate his brutal, 66-bout career: I look at my past, great memories abound/
For I fought, I bled and I cried.
I gave it my all round after round/
And the world knows that I tried.
Asked if he was bitter about ending up broke and depending on his family to care for him, he said: "No, it's part of life. Life is just a steady climb to the bottom."
Quarry died at 53 on Sunday at a hospital in Templeton, Calif. The cause was listed as pneumonia followed by cardiac arrest, but his relatives and boxing fans knew better. He had fought too long and too hard.
Dr. Peter Russell, a neuropsychologist who examined him in 1995, said: "Jerry Quarry now has the brain of an 80-year-old. Fighting aged him 30 years. He's at third-stage dementia, very similar to Alzheimer's.
"Boxers typically get a lot of repeated cerebral vascular damage. The small arteries and small capillaries in the brain rupture, and that leads to this kind of global atrophy of the brain."
He first showed signs of dementia after taking neurological tests in 1983. But Quarry was lured back into the ring in 1992, believing he could replicate George Foreman's remarkable comeback. After having his license rejected by California, he agreed to fight a six-rounder against journeyman Ron Crammer in Aurura, Colo., a state without a boxing commission.
"He was missing the accolades," his older brother, Jimmy, then told the New York Post. "He'd walk around saying, 'I'm going to be a hero again.' He'd tap strangers on the shoulder and ask, 'Did you ever hear of Jerry Quarry?' If they said, no, he'd say, 'Well, I'm sure you heard of Muhammad Ali, and I fought him twice -- me, Jerry Quarry.' "
For losing to Crammer, Quarry received $1,050, a few broken teeth and deep cuts over both eyes and more brain damage. He would sit in his living room in Woodland Hills, Calif., and ask his brothers: " 'When are we going home?' " Jimmy Quarry said. "They would reply, 'You are home.' He would get embarrassed and say, 'I'm just checking on you guys.'
"Most of the time, he was spaced out, hearing voices, crying and being scared. He couldn't leave the house on his own. He was living in a very small world."
But there were really few career choices for Quarry, whose first ring was a playpen. His father, Jack, gave him his first pair of boxing gloves when he was 3. As the Los Angeles Times said: "The Quarry clan had leather on their hands as soon as they had leather on their feet."
By 5, Jerry was sparring with brother Jimmy in Johnny Flores' gym in Pomona. In later years, Jerry's younger brother, Mike, who became a light-heavyweight contender, served as his principal sparring partner.
"Their whole lives, my brothers were conditioned by my father to take a punch," recalled Jimmy. "That's why they could take so much punishment."
By 18, Quarry had fought more than 200 amateur bouts. After winning the Golden Gloves heavyweight crown in 1965, he turned pro and was unbeaten in his first 20 fights before losing to Eddie Machen, a clever boxer, in 1966.
By this time, Quarry was being hailed as the latest Great White Hope, a square-jawed Irishman with a crushing left hook who was considered the best white heavyweight since Sweden's Ingemar Johansson briefly reigned as champion in 1959.
With Ali in boxing limbo after defying his call to military service, Quarry qualified for an elimination tournament for the heavyweight title. He reached the final before losing a 15-round decision to Jimmy Ellis. Quarry blamed his listless performance on a broken back and undergoing cortisone shots to assure a $125,000 payday.
"He always had problems," said Flores, who trained Quarry early in his pro career. "But many of his injuries weren't from boxing. He hurt his back wrestling with Jimmy."
Teddy Bentham, who also trained Quarry, said: "I thought he was good enough to become champion. But if he wasn't getting hurt, he was bothered by outside influences. He had an entourage in training camp like Sugar Ray Robinson.
"And he was stubborn, too. After losing to Ellis, he changed his style. He should have boxed Frazier when Joe got tired in their fight in 1969, but he tried to prove a point and got himself knocked out in seven rounds."
Quarry was guaranteed $300,000 for fighting Ali in Atlanta in 1970 after Ali's 3 1/2-year absence from the ring. He was stopped in the third round after being severely cut over the eye.
As he recalled: "I wasn't fighting for race, creed or color that night. I was fighting for money. My heritage was like the 'Grapes of Wrath.' I went to over 20 schools as a kid. If I'd beaten Ali that night, I'd have made millions. It just wasn't my night."
Quarry did earn more than $1 million in his career, but ended up living on a $614 Social Security disability check as a childlike hulk of a man.
"Boxing is a very cruel sport," he said in his final years. "It's a one-on-one confrontation with your life. But retiring from the ring, that's really hellacious."
Pub Date: 1/05/99