What’s happened to my family and me since I left boxing has been a personal holocaust. If you added up every punch I ever took and then multiplied the total by 10,000, it wouldn’t begin to equal the pain of losing three sons and a wife to drugs and suicide.
It started in the spring of 1984 when my youngest son, Jesse, tore off his left kneecap in a dirt bike accident just a few weeks after his 20th birthday. Complex surgery repaired the damage but left him in constant pain. Not long after the surgery, Jesse went to a party, where he complained to someone about the pain in his knee. That someone replied he had something that would help — and that was my son’s introduction to heroin. Unable to live with what quickly became a full-blown addiction, on February 18, 1985, Jesse went into his bedroom, put the barrel of a .22-caliber rifle in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
When you have one heroin addict in the family, it’s almost a guarantee there will be more. Son number three, Georgie Lee, was next. He died on Halloween night, 1993, in a seedy Toronto hotel room. He was still seated in a chair, wearing only a pair of undershorts, with a syringe sticking out of his left arm.
Four days after Georgie Lee died, my wife, Lynne, scrawled out a short suicide note and gulped down a handful of Fiorinal.
Haunted by the special pain that only a mother can feel, she simply couldn’t bear it any longer. First Jesse, then Georgie Lee. It was too much for her.
By 1996 I’d remarried and was looking forward to embarking on a cross-Canada tour with son number two, Steven, after his release from prison for drugstore robberies. Like Jesse and Georgie Lee, Stevie was a heroin addict, but he was determined to beat it. The Fifth Estate, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation television program, even featured us in a documentary. Stevie and I were going to tour the country together to tell the story of how drugs destroyed our family. But it was not to be.
On August 17, 1996 — 11 days after his release —Steven was found dead in his sister Vanessa’s apartment. She had gone to visit friends out of town but had told him she’d be back the following afternoon. Stevie was found slumped over a desk, clad in a pair of undershorts. There was a syringe sticking out of his left arm and an unlit cigarette between the first two fingers of his right hand. After he shot the heroin into his vein, before he could light the cigarette, he was gone.
When people ask me how I cope, it’s tough to find an answer. It never goes away. But I’m trying. When you’re awake and fully conscious, your mind kind of shields and protects you. But once I stop, once things slow down and the TV is off, the lights are out and I’m alone in the dark with my own thoughts, I have a hard time. A very hard time. Always. It’s like an anxiety attack that takes your breath away. I think, “How can you even live after all that? How the hell did it all happen?”
On his 2002 album Raised by Wolves, Canadian recording artist Colin Linden included a song about me that contains the line “Gladiators cry alone.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. I know in my heart that I’m not solely guilty for what happened to my family, but rather than absolving myself of guilt, I’ve tried to teach myself to live with certain things. You can never absolve yourself; that’s like jiving yourself. You just can’t do it. There are plenty of things I feel guilty about, that I second-guess or wish I had done differently. But at the end of the day, all I can do is continue to roll with the punches and live my life the best way I know how.
That’s why I wanted to set the record straight by writing it all down. It’s all here: the good, the bad and the ugly. And more tears and heartache than any man needs.
In 93 pro fights, I never pulled a punch. Still can’t. And even if I wanted to, the truth won’t let me.