Don King (boxing promoter)
King in 2016
August 20, 1931
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
|Known for||"The Thrilla in Manila", "The Rumble in the Jungle", others|
Donald "Don" King (born August 20, 1931) is an American boxing promoter known for his involvement in historic boxing matchups. He has been a controversial figure, partly due to a manslaughter conviction (and later pardon), and civil cases against him.
King's career highlights include, among multiple other enterprises, promoting "The Rumble in the Jungle" and the "Thrilla in Manila". King has promoted some of the most prominent names in boxing, including Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Julio César Chávez, Ricardo Mayorga, Andrew Golota, Bernard Hopkins, Félix Trinidad, Roy Jones, Jr. and Marco Antonio Barrera. Almost all of these boxers sued him for defrauding them; King settled most lawsuits for six- to eight-digit pay-offs while managing to avoid a conviction of felony fraud.
In 1966, King was convicted of nonnegligent manslaughter for killing Sam Garrett, one of his employees. He served almost four years in prison. After being released, he was later pardoned in 1983.
King was born in Cleveland, Ohio, where he attended school and graduated from John Adams High in 1951. After dropping out of Kent State University, he ran an illegal bookmaking operation out of the basement of a record store on Kinsman Road, and was charged for killing two men in incidents 13 years apart. The first was determined to be justifiable homicide after it was found that King shot Hillary Brown in the back and killed him while he was attempting to rob one of King's gambling houses. King was convicted of second degree murder for the second killing in 1966 after he was found guilty of stomping to death an employee, Sam Garrett, who owed him $600. The judge reduced King's conviction to nonnegligent manslaughter for which King served just under four years in prison. King was later pardoned for the crime in 1983 by Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes, with letters from Jesse Jackson, Coretta Scott King, George Voinovich, Art Modell, and Gabe Paul, among others, being written in support of King.
King entered the boxing world after convincing Muhammad Ali to box in a charity exhibition for a local hospital in Cleveland with the help of singer Lloyd Price. Early on he formed a partnership with a local promoter named Don Elbaum, who already had a stable of fighters in Cleveland and years of experience in boxing. In 1974, King negotiated to promote a heavyweight championship fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire, popularly known as "The Rumble in the Jungle". The fight between Ali and Foreman was a much-anticipated event. King's rivals all sought to promote the bout, but King was able to secure the then-record $10 million purse through an arrangement with the government of Zaire.
King solidified his position as one of boxing's preeminent promoters the following year with the third fight between Ali and Joe Frazier in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, which King deemed the "Thrilla in Manila". Aside from promoting the premier heavyweight fights of the 1970s, King was also busy expanding his boxing empire. Throughout the decade, he compiled an impressive roster of fighters, many of whom would finish their career with Hall of Fame credentials. Fighters including Larry Holmes, Wilfred Benítez, Roberto Durán, Salvador Sánchez, Wilfredo Gómez, and Alexis Argüello would all fight under the Don King Productions promotional banner in the 1970s.
For the next two decades, King continued to be among boxing's most successful promoters. Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Julio César Chávez, Aaron Pryor, Bernard Hopkins, Ricardo López, Félix Trinidad, Terry Norris, Carlos Zárate, Azumah Nelson, Andrew Gołota, Mike McCallum, Gerald McClellan, Meldrick Taylor, Marco Antonio Barrera, Tomasz Adamek, and Ricardo Mayorga are some of the boxers who chose King to promote many of their biggest fights.
Outside of boxing, he also managed The Jacksons' 1984 Victory Tour. In 1998, King purchased a Cleveland-based weekly newspaper serving the African-American community in Ohio, the Call and Post, and as of 2011 continued as its publisher.
Don King's wife Henrietta died on December 2, 2010 at the age of 87. He has a daughter Debbie, and sons, Carl and Eric. He has five grandchildren. King is politically active and made media appearances promoting George W. Bush during the 2004 U.S. presidential election, which included attendance at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City. On June 10, 1987 King was made a Mason-on-Sight by Grand Master Odes J. Kyle Jr. of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio; thereby making him a Prince Hall Freemason. The following year he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane letters degree from Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, by University President Dr. Arthur E. Thomas.
King frequently appears on talk show The Howard Stern Show to promote fights. He has been portrayed by Dave Chappelle in a skit about a "Gay America", promoting a boxing match between two homosexual boxers. In 1995, HBO aired Tyson, a television movie based upon the life of Mike Tyson where King was portrayed by actor Paul Winfield.
In 1997, actor Ving Rhames played King in a made-for-TV movie, Don King: Only in America which aired on HBO. Rhames won a Golden Globe Award for his portrayal of King. In a 1998 episode of South Park, titled "Damien", Jesus and Satan are to have a boxing match to decide the conflict between good and evil, and Don King represents Satan.
In its first season, In Living Color featured a one-time sketch titled "King: The Early Years", set in a schoolyard in 1939, in which the narrator led viewers to believe that Martin Luther King, Jr. got his start in childhood as a peacemaker between two fighting classmates—until "King" was revealed as a young Don King (portrayed by Damon Wayans), who promoted the schoolyard scuffle.
In the episode "My Brother's Keeper" of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Carlton is portrayed as Don King in one of Will's dreams. Additionally, in the Will Smith song "I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson", King is mentioned. On an episode of Boy Meets World, Cory is having really bad hair problems, and his hair is similar to Don King's. One kid even made fun of Cory by saying, "Hey look, it's Don King." In Celebrity Deathmatch, King's death was a running gag during the series' first season. In the final episode of the second season, he was matched against Donald Trump, with King being killed again, this time in the ring.
King acted in a small role as more or less himself in 1982's The Last Fight and in the 1985 comedy Head Office. He also had another brief cameo as himself in the 1997 movie The Devil's Advocate. The film Don King: Only in America, a Biography of fight promoter Don King, follows his rise from a street goon convicted of strong arm tactics to a minor music promoter to pulling off his first major fight with Muhammad Ali for a charity.
The character of George Washington Duke, the flamboyant boxing promoter in Rocky V, is modeled at least in part on Don King,  even using King's famous catchphrase "Only in America!" Similarly, Samuel L. Jackson played a King caricature in the 1996 comedy The Great White Hype.
In the Xbox video game Jade Empire, a character named Qui The Promoter is based on Don King, including personality and his speech patterns. In the game ABC Wide World of Sports Boxing the top manager is reminiscent of King. Also, Don King helped create a video game called Don King Presents: Prizefighter for the Xbox 360, which he promoted on IGN's podcast Three Red Lights, and another called Don King Boxing for the Wii. There is also a Nintendo DS version of Don King Boxing.
King has been investigated for possible connections with organized crime. During a 1992 Senate investigation, King invoked the Fifth Amendment when questioned about his connection to mobster John Gotti. In public, however, King has strongly denied any connections to organized crime and has responded to mob allegations by calling them "racist".
Mike Tyson, the former undisputed World Heavyweight Boxing Champion, says of his former manager, "(King is) a wretched, slimy, reptilian motherfucker. This is supposed to be my 'black brother', right? He's just a bad man, a real bad man. He would kill his own mother for a dollar. He's ruthless, he's deplorable, he's greedy ... and he doesn't know how to love anybody."
Lawsuits and prosecutions
King has been involved in many litigation cases with boxers that were focused on fraud. In 1982 he was sued by Muhammad Ali for underpaying him $1.1 million for a fight with Larry Holmes. King called in an old friend of Ali, Jeremiah Shabazz, and handed him a suitcase containing $50,000 in cash and a letter ending Ali's lawsuit against King. He asked Shabazz to visit Ali (who was in hospital due to his failing health) and get him to sign the letter and then give Ali the $50,000. Ali signed. The letter even gave King the right to promote any future Ali fights. According to Shabazz, "Ali was ailing by then and mumbling a lot. I guess he needed the money." Shabazz later regretted helping King. Ali's lawyer cried when he learned that Ali had ended the lawsuit without telling him.
Larry Holmes has alleged that over the course of his career King cheated him out of $10 million in fight purses, including claiming 25% of his purses as a hidden manager. Holmes says he received only $150,000 of a contracted $500,000 for his fight with Ken Norton, and $50,000 of $200,000 for facing Earnie Shavers, and claims King cut his purses for bouts with Muhammad Ali, Randall "Tex" Cobb, and Leon Spinks, underpaying him $2 million, $700,000, and $250,000, respectively. Holmes sued King over the accounting and auditing for the Gerry Cooney fight, charging that he was underpaid by $2 to $3 million. Holmes sued King after King deducted a $300,000 'finder's fee' from his fight purse against Mike Tyson; Holmes settled for $150,000 and also signed a legal agreement pledging not to give any more negative information about King to reporters.
Tim Witherspoon was threatened with being blackballed if he did not sign exclusive contracts with King and his stepson Carl. Not permitted to have his own lawyer present, he signed four "contracts of servitude" (according to Jack Newfield). One was an exclusive promotional contract with Don King, two were managerial contracts with Carl King, identical except one was "for show" that gave Carl King 33% of Witherspoon's purses and the other gave King a 50% share, more than is allowed by many boxing commissions. The fourth contract was completely blank.
Other examples include Witherspoon being promised $150,000 for his fight with Larry Holmes, but receiving only $52,750. King's son Carl took 50% of Witherspoon's purse, illegal under Nevada rules, and the WBC sanctioning fee was also deducted from his purse. He was forced to train at King's own training camp at Orwell, Ohio, instead of Ali's Deer Lake camp which Ali allowed Witherspoon to use for free. For his fight with Greg Page he received a net amount of $44,460 from his guaranteed purse of $250,000. King had deducted money for training expenses, sparring partners, fight and airplane tickets for his friends and family. Witherspoon was never paid a stipulated $100,000 for his training expenses and instead was billed $150 a day for using King's training camp. Carl King again received 50% of his purse, despite Don King Promotions falsely claiming he had only been paid 33%. HBO paid King $1,700,000 for Witherspoon to fight Frank Bruno. Witherspoon got a purse of $500,000, but received only $90,000 after King's deductions. Carl King received $275,000. In 1987 Witherspoon sued King for $25 million in damages. He eventually settled for $1 million out of court.
In 1996 Terry Norris sued King, alleging that King had stolen money from him and conspired with his manager to underpay him for fights. The case went to trial, but King settled out of court for $7.5 million in 2003. King also acceded to Norris' demand that the settlement be made public.
In 2005 King launched a $2.5 billion defamation suit against ESPN, the makers of SportsCentury, after a documentary alleged that King had "killed, not once, but twice", threatened to break Larry Holmes' legs, cheated Meldrick Taylor out of $1 million, and then threatened to have Taylor killed. Though the documentary repeated many claims already made, King said he had now had enough. King's attorney said "It was slanted to show Don in the worst way. It was one-sided from day one, Don is a strong man, but he has been hurt by this."
The case was dismissed on summary judgment with a finding that King could not show "actual malice" from the defendants. Judge Dorian Damoorgian ruled, "Nothing in the record shows that ESPN purposefully made false statements about King in order to bolster the theme of the program or to inflict harm on King."
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