Boxing Legend Joe Frazier, Who Inspired Iconic 'Rocky' Scenes, Dies at Age 67 (Video)
Frazier's epic fights against longtime foil Muhammad Ali were so big that Frank Sinatra was shooting pictures at ringside; the Thrilla in Manila became the subject of an HBO documentary.
Boxing legend Joe Frazier, who had a cameo in Rocky and later said he was the inspiration for the iconic scenes where Sylvester Stallone is seen running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, died Monday night in Philadelphia after a brief battle with liver cancer. He was 67.
Frazier won the Olympic heavyweight boxing gold medal for the U.S. in 1964 and held the world heavyweight boxing crown from 1970-73, but he is perhaps best known for his three epic fights with Muhammad Ali.
Rocky featured a character named Apollo Creed, who was influenced by Ali. But in a 2008 interview with the Guardian, Frazier noted that he inspired two of the Oscar-winning 1976 movie's most iconic scenes.
After moving from Harlem to Philadelphia, Frazier ended up working at a slaughterhouse.
"I was the drain man. My job was to make sure the blood went down the drain," he said. "But sometimes, early in the morning, I'd go down that long rail of meat and work on my punching. That's how Stallone got the same idea for Rocky -- just like he used the story about me training by running up the steps of the museum in Philly."
But Frazier said he never earned a cent from the backstory.
"He never paid me for none of my past," the boxer said. "I only got paid for a walk-on part. Rocky is a sad story for me."
During their battle -- nearly to the death -- they traded punches with a fervor that seemed unimaginable among heavyweights. Frazier gave almost as good as he got for 14 rounds, then had to be held back by trainer Eddie Futch as he tried to go out for the final round, unable to see.
Ali was as merciless with Frazier out of the ring as he was inside it. He called him a gorilla, and mocked him as an Uncle Tom. But he respected him as a fighter, especially after Frazier won a decision to defend his heavyweight title against the then-unbeaten Ali in a fight that was so big Frank Sinatra was shooting pictures at ringside, Burt Lancaster was supplying the color commentary, and both fighters earned an astonishing $2.5 million.
"They told me Joe Frazier was through," Ali told Frazier at one point during the Manila fight.
"They lied," Frazier said, before hitting Ali with a left hook.
Finally, though, Frazier simply couldn't see and Futch would not let him go out for the 15th round. Ali won the fight while on his stool, exhausted and contemplating himself whether to go on.
"Closest thing to dying that I know of," Ali said afterward.
It was one of the greatest fights ever, but it took a toll. Frazier would fight only two more times, getting knocked out in a rematch with George Foreman, eight months after losing his heavyweight title to the boxer, before coming back in 1981 for an ill-advised fight with Jumbo Cummings.