by David P. Greisman
Cigar in hand. Fedora on head. Jokes in mind.
This was Bert Randolph Sugar as we knew him, a character in a sport full of characters, a man with wit and humor in a sport that often needed it, and who typed countless words for men who deserved them.
Sugar, 74, died Sunday afternoon after a battle with lung cancer, according to CBS New York. His daughter told the Associated Press that Sugar died after suffering cardiac arrest.
Now, then, some words about a man who also deserved them.
Sugar was a boxing historian, yes, but also an integral part of boxing’s history, an observer deservingly enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota. His fist cast, one of the signature elements in Canastota, included two outstretched fingers holding up a stogie.
Sugar was born in 1937 in Washington, D.C., and attended college at the University of Maryland before heading off to law school at the University of Michigan, according to his IBHOF profile. He went from law to advertising before joining our world of the sweet science.
He headed magazines — Boxing Illustrated, The Ring, and Fight Game. He published books, more than 80 in total. He wrote articles and appeared on television specials and won awards and recognition, picking up the Boxing Writers Association of America’s “Nat Fleischer Award” in 1990 and entering Canastota 15 years later.
“A couple years ago, my son was asked about me retiring. He said they let me drink, smoke and bullshit, and I get paid for it,” Sugar told Michael Woods of ESPN.com in December. “He said, what was I going to do, drink, smoke and bullshit, and not get paid for it? This is fun.”
Last year, he became a fighter himself, in a way.
Sugar had been sidelined by cancer and pneumonia, a devastating one-two punch, a combination of two illnesses, each of which would fell many on its own.
He fought, though. In December, Woods caught up with Sugar, who’d spent 15 days in the hospital the month before but had been able to make it through, returning home to recuperate.
He did so, of course, with his signature humor.
“You live like an idiot, it catches up with you,” Sugar told Woods. “I had everything but terminal acne. I gathered they’d given up on me. You live like hell for all these years, it’s going to be like hell at the end.
“I had radiation, chemotherapy, chemo-sabe,” he told Woods. “The cancer is in remission. It’s over. I’ve won. I’m back, by unpopular demand. I’m coming along.”
His family was with him when he passed, gathered together at a hospital in Westchester County, N.Y., CBS reported.
We will remember Sugar fondly. As with his signature cigars, he lit up boxing.
BoxingScene.com will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter at twitter.com/fightingwords2 or on Facebook at facebook.com/fightingwordsboxing, or send questions and comments to [email protected]