Frazier in the Footlights

Today we add world heavyweight champion Joe Frazier (1944-2011) to our honor roll of fighters who moonlighted in the limelight behind the footlights.

Raised on a South Carolina farm, Frazier moved north to Philadelphia as a teenager, having run afoul of brutal local whites whom he’d criticized for whipping another boy. He worked at menial jobs and began boxing at the amateur level, winning Golden Gloves titles in 1962, ’63 and ’64. He tried out for the Olympics at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, made the team, and went on to win a Gold Medal in the Tokyo competition. In 1970 he became the first comer to best Muhammad Ali, and held the world heavyweight title himself until 1973, when George Foreman won it. In 1975 was the famous “Thrilla in Manilla” rematch with Ali. Frazier retired from boxing in 1981.

But like many a boxer before him, Frazier found other ways to stay in the columns. I realized that he rated a post when I noted recently that he appeared in one of Roy Radin’s vaudeville shows! His tv credits stretch back to the late 1960s including appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Joey Bishop Show, Kraft Music Hall, The Merv Griffin Show, The Dean Martin Show, The Bob Hope Show, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Dick Cavett Show, and The David Frost Show. His Philly connection and status as boxing star combined to rate him a cameo in Rocky (1976, pictured above). He was on The Jeffersons in 1985, which is the probable explanation that he appeared in the Sherman Helmsley movie Ghost Fever the following year. He also had guest shots on shows like Movin’ On, Frank’s Place, and a smattering of others. Later on was also on The Howard Stern Show (he and Stern shared a birthday). Cancer took Frazier at the relatively young age of 67.

To find out more about show biz history please read No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.