An African American boxer born in Waco, North Carolina, and raised in Brooklyn, New York, where boxing redirected him from a youth of street life and petty crime. Patterson became the youngest world heavyweight champion to date when defeating Archie Moore in 1956. Patterson had won the gold medal at middleweight in the Helsinki Olympics of 1952, and was the first Olympic gold medallist to go on to become a professional world champion. He lost his title to Swede Ingemar Johansson in 1959, regaining it in 1961, but then losing it to Sonny Liston in a first-round knockout in 1962. A rematch with Liston produced another first-round knockout. Patterson's experience of these defeats is often focused upon more than is his decade of achievement. Gay Talese, one of the architects of the new journalism, captured the depression into which Patterson fell after his second defeat by Liston: ‘At the foot of a mountain in upstate New York, about sixty miles from Manhattan…Patterson lives alone in a two-room apartment in the rear of the house and has remained there in almost complete seclusion since getting knocked out a second time by Sonny Liston’ (‘The Loser’, in Fame and Obscurity, 1981). Talese also wrote of how Patterson, haunted by the prospect and consequences of failure, had carried with him a set of false whiskers and moustache ever since his defeat to Johansson in 1959, for disguise and escape. Patterson recovered from his depression to relaunch his fighting career and live a dignified and respected life, but Talese's close-up profile of the still young 29-year-old fighter demonstrates the vicissitudes and personal costs of sporting celebrity and fame. To some, though, his respectability on his re-emergence in public life confirmed his reactionary cultural and political position: from such a perspective his role as New York City boxing commissioner confirmed his status as the ‘house negro’ of the Republicans.
Subjects: Sport and Leisure.