Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, prizefighter who became symbol of racial injustice, dies at 76

The Associated Press

FILE - In this June 8, 2001 file photo, former middleweight boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, left, is escorted by an unidentified security guard into the venue where Laila Ali and Jacqui Frazier-Lyde will box each other in Verona, NY. Carter, who spent almost 20 years in jail after twice being convicted of a triple murder he denied committing, died at his home in Toronto, Sunday, April 20, 2014, according to long-time friend and co-accused John Artis. He was 76. (AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser, File)

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Born on May 6, 1937, into a family of seven children, Carter struggled with a hereditary speech impediment and was sent to a juvenile reform center at 12 after an assault. He escaped and joined the Army in 1954 and learned to box while in West Germany.

After returning home, he committed a series of muggings and spent four years in various state prisons. Upon his release, he began his pro boxing career, winning 20 of his first 24 fights mostly by knockout.

At 5-foot-8, Carter was fairly short for a middleweight, but he was aggressive and threw waves of punches. His shaved head and menacing glower gave him an imposing ring presence but also contributed to a forbidding aura outside the ring. He was quoted as joking about killing police officers in a 1964 story in the Saturday Evening Post, which was later cited by Carter as a cause of his troubles with law enforcement.

Carter boxed regularly on television at Madison Square Garden and overseas in London, Paris and Johannesburg. Although his career appeared to be on a downswing before he was implicated in the murders, the 29-year-old fighter was hoping for a second middleweight title shot.

Carter defied his prison guards from the first day of his incarceration and spent time in solitary confinement because of it.

"When I walked into prison, I refused to wear their stripes," Carter said. "I refused to eat their food. I refused to work their jobs, and I would have refused to breathe the prison's air if I could have done so."

Carter eventually wrote and spoke eloquently about his plight, publishing his autobiography, "The Sixteenth Round," in 1974. Benefit concerts were held for his legal defense featuring Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Roberta Flack.

Although many of his celebrity friends abandoned the cause after his second conviction and an allegation of assault during his brief release, other advocates worked tirelessly on his behalf, culminating in Sarokin's ruling and two subsequent failed prosecutorial appeals to have the convictions reinstated. Each year on the anniversary Sarokin's decision, Carter called the judge to thank him.

After his release, Carter moved to Toronto, where he served as the executive director of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted from 1993 to 2005. He received two honorary doctorates for his work.

Canadian director Norman Jewison made Carter's story into a biographical film. Washington worked closely with Carter to capture the boxer's transformation and redemption.

"He's all love," Washington said while onstage with Carter at the 2000 ceremony where he won a Golden Globe. "He lost about 7,300 days of his life, and he's love."

The makers of "The Hurricane," however, were widely criticized for factual inaccuracies and glossing over other parts of Carter's story, including his criminal past and a reputation for a violent temper. Giardello sued the film's producers for its depiction of a racist fix in his victory over Carter, who had long acknowledged that Giardello deserved the win.

Kidrin spoke with Carter on Wednesday.

"He said, 'You know, look, death's coming. I'm ready for it. But it's really going to have to take me because I'm positive to the end.'"

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AP Sports Writer Rick Freeman and AP Drama Writer Mark Kennedy contributed to this report in New York.

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