Whatever Happened to Ken Norton?
By Robert Brizel, Head Real Combat Media Boxing Correspondent
In 1977, Ken Norton was the only heavyweight to be awarded the world heavyweight title, after winning a split decision 15 in a WBC eliminator bout, when he received the World Boxing Council World Heavyweight title in 1978 after Muhammad Ali opted to defend the WBA title against Leon Spinks instead of him. In 1978, he lost a split decision in 15 rounds and his WBC title to Larry Holmes in one is still considered one of the greatest hard fought classic world heavyweight title bouts of all time.
Norton won 42 of 50 pro bouts. He wilted against the likes of George Foreman, Gerry Cooney, Earnie Shavers. He won one of three decisions with Muhammad Ali, including losing a 15 round decision in his bout with Ali at Yankee Stadium in 1976, when Norton got flagrantly robbed. One round more on the cards would have given Norton a split decision.
An actor and television commentator, Norton’s downward spiral happened not in the ring, but on the Vermont off ramp of the Santa Monica Freeway in Los Angeles, California, on February 23, 1986. Norton crashed his car, but had not recollection of the accident or its causes. No drugs or alcohol were involved. It has been speculated another driver may have cut him off, or Norton simply passed out. He wrote a book on his recovery.
Norton eventually succumbed to the ravages of time. He survived prostate cancer, a heart attack, two strokes, and quadruple bypass surgery. Later, Norton, Ali, Holmes, Joe Frazier and George Foreman took part in the Champion’s Forever Tour, which helped the former heavyweight champions, as well as their fans, understand their life’s road in a deeper sense.
Norton died from congestive heart failure on September 18, 2013. He was 70 years old. Norton’s tombstone epitaph at Jacksonville East Cemetery, in Jacksonville, Illinois, states the catch phrase ‘What the mind can conceive the body can achieve’. The slogan, which Norton admired, absorbed dominated his life. It became the motivation which inspired his motivation to beat Ali, as well as his other achievements. PRest in peace, Kenny. Buried in quiet, and forgotten in the winds of time by both boxing fans and the general public, Ken Norton was here. After his losses to Shavers and Cooney, and his sports car accident, Kenny Norton lived on as a shadow of his former self. His tombstone is now part of the wind. Of Norton’s five children, the best known is Ken Norton Jr., an Oakland Raiders coach who played 13 seasons in the National Football League with the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers, as the only NFL player to wear Super Bowl rings three years in a row.