Known as something of a cultural icon in the days of zoot suit and Charleston, Jack Dempsey still holds a place deep in the hearts of fighting fans as one of the most beloved American boxers over all time. Throughout his heyday, he could really draw a crowd to watch him at his finest and has set attendance records for his generation of fighters, being slated in the very first match that garnered over a million dollars. His style was one of brute strength as was common for many of the fighters of his time and many of his victories were born of knockouts or technical knockouts. All in all, one could certainly expect to see a great degree of blood and swelling throughout the course of a Dempsey fight, one of the main reasons his fights filled the arenas with screaming fans.
Jack was born as William Dempsey in Colorado in the late 1800’s to the Dempsey’s that were of precarious means, traveling around seeking work to support the family. Jack dropped out of school to help to contribute to the family bills and eventually left home to try to find a better life on his own. He traveled in box cars on trains and slept in vagrant camps, looking for work where ever he could get it. When necessary, Jack would fight in bars and taverns for the price of whatever one was willing to bet.
Dempsey first appeared in the professional rings in 1914 and clinched the World Heavyweight title in 1919 in a fight with Jess Willard in Toledo, Ohio and he retained the honour for 7 years until he finally lost to Gene Tunney in what was, at the time, the highest grossing fight in boxing to date. The defeat was a judges’ decision based on ten rounds in 1926 and continued to fight for only another year, meeting Tunney again in a rematch to try to regain his championship title. The loss was all he needed to choose retirement and after that bout, Dempsey didn’t return to the ring.
After retirement, Dempsey played a prizefighter in the MGM property “The Prizefighter and the Lady” starring as the fight promoter alongside of Myrna Loy as the leading lady. While he did go on to act in other projects, regularly as Tiger O’Day in a number of shorts in 1924, his post-boxing profession was as restaurateur at his Broadway restaurant across from Madison Square Gardens in New York. Opened in 1935, Jack would be on hand to greet fans, sign autographs and pose for photographs in the beginning but the restaurant stayed in business for about 40 years before closing its doors. It appeared in two rather famous movies set in New York, once in the opening sequence of A Bronx Tale and secondly as a pick up location from Micheal Corleone in The Godfather.
Dempsey joined the Coast Guard in the Second World War and served throughout until he was discharged in 1952. He also authored and co-authored books on fighting and along with his stepdaughter, penned his autobiography in the late 70’s. Dempsey lived a long and fulfilling life, most of it spent outside of the ring but it is for his fighting career that he is best remembered. He died at the age of 87 from heart failure.
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