"I zigged when I should have zagged."
September 2, 2013 7:24 PM   Subscribe

Tommy "The Duke" Morrison, grand nephew of John Wayne, former WBO heavyweight champion, co-star of Rocky V, and, later, supporter of the HIV Denial movement, has passed away at 44.

Morrison, who defeated George Foreman to win the vacant WBO heavyweight title in 1993 and saw high profile bouts against Razor Ruddock (win) and Lennox Lewis (loss), saw his professional boxing career derailed when he tested positive for the HIV virus in February 1996 prior to a warm-up fight that Morrison hoped would lead to a bout against Mike Tyson. At first Morrison embraced his status, took antiretroviral medication, and spoke out about the self-destructive behavior and promiscuity that lead to his contracting HIV. Later he become a staunch supporter of the HIV Denial movement insisting his positive HIV tests in 1996 in Nevada were the result of false positives and part of a larger conspiracy against him.

After spending time in prison on drug and firearm charges Morrison attempted numerous comebacks, even going so far as to get pectoral implants to conceal muscle wasting. Finding willing opponents and state boxing commissions to license him difficult, Morrison sought out bouts in states without blood testing and lax licensing standards. One of his more memorable final bouts took place against MMA promoter Corey Williams in Wyoming in 2009.
posted by playertobenamedlater (15 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What a tragedy.

posted by flippant at 7:26 PM on September 2, 2013

I could have sympathy for a man who gets a hopeless diagnosis and slips into denial. For someone who goes around preaching that denial to others and proudly proclaims having unprotected sex with multiple women ... that sympathy is almost completely drowned out by anger and disgust.
posted by crayz at 7:41 PM on September 2, 2013 [28 favorites]

I just read this article the other day.
posted by infinitywaltz at 7:45 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well put, crayz.
posted by notsnot at 7:46 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Man, I want to say something angry and cutting but dying of AIDS is so fucking awful I wouldn't wish it on anyone. There's an extra bit of cognitive dissonance here too; he both denied that HIV causes AIDS but also denied he even had HIV.

“The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it.”
posted by Nelson at 8:18 PM on September 2, 2013 [12 favorites]

Crayz said it well.

I'm never glad when anyone dies, but no . here.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:24 PM on September 2, 2013

infinity....that essay was moving. Thanks.

The overwhelming tragedy in this man's life somehow makes all the "see there's" irrelevant.

He was a gifted man in several ways. And then, one gift after another turned on him and went straight for his throat.
posted by mule98J at 8:49 PM on September 2, 2013

I saw this article through Deadspin this morning (on some boxing-focused kinja spawn called Uppercutting) and thought it was a pretty interesting look at the guy for who he was as a boxer. They don't ignore the later HIV/AIDS denial part of him, but they did focus on the sport he was a part of.

It's interesting, though. I mean, I'm all for the idea of trying to remember someone well, but for someone like this, who through his celebrity caused outright harm through the public denial (there are always people who will listen, no matter how low level the celebrity is), but also the actual harm of repeatedly and proudly having unprotected sex, knowing he was HIV positive... how can we possibly say anything good about a person like that?
posted by Ghidorah at 9:48 PM on September 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

At least he's not infecting anyone else any more.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:06 PM on September 2, 2013

I'd heard of HIV Deniers before, but had naively figured that was something that happened far away, surely not in San Francisco. And then last year I had a couple of HIV/AIDS patients who refused HAART, maintaining that the presence of the virus or their infection was a fiction, and in one notable case had a CD4 count of 4 (the gallows humour was that the CD4 cells could be individually named Larry, Curly, Mo and The Other One). And as the article mentions "his nephew looked homeless and 60 years old in the picture". People with full-blown AIDS can look spectacularly aged and in the presence of high viral loads, even without sepsis and infection, HIV itself is pro-inflammatory and can cause an organic brain damage resulting in a behavioural syndrome that initially presents with subtle personality alterations associated most with frontal-lobe damage (the kind where you have to watch for disinhibition and over-confidence tells), later with paranoia and delusions, and progressing to an all-over globalized HIV dementia picture. Sustaining multiple concussive injuries from something like boxing trauma could accelerate that cognitive decline. You can have 30-year-olds that look 60 and think like they're 90. The tragedy is that even in the presence of massive degradation, they sometimes retain relatively preserved islands of fluency or over-learned domain knowledge that enables them to appear "competent" on casual interview.
posted by meehawl at 10:39 PM on September 2, 2013 [14 favorites]

A life wasted. If he'd ceased the denial, chances are that he could have still had a good life and contributed to society instead of actively putting other people's health in danger.
posted by arcticseal at 10:58 PM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just so I can counter Flippant's little moment of silence up there, allow me to say two things.
1) Good. One less person knowingly giving HIV to others and not caring about it is a good thing, not a bad thing.

Death does not demand that we forgive unpardonable, unforgivable crimes. We look askew at people who shed tears at Pol Pot's funeral, and I fail to see the tragedy in the world becoming a safer place for people already engaged in a dangerous profession, optional as that profession may be.
posted by GoingToShopping at 11:52 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Good lord, we're comparing the guy to Pol Pot now? I think we're getting a little over zealous with the pitchforks and torches people.
I watched a couple of this guys fights back in the day. And I remember the shocking news when it came out he was HIV positive.
I stopped following boxing years ago. So I had not heard of his claim that "AIDS is a hoax" until I read the linked story.
Apparently he bought into this crap, kind of like the parents of kids who come down with measles or whooping caugh because they think vaccines are a government conspiracy whipped up by the New World Order.
The guy was naive and lived a life of denial. Through that denial he brought harm to others. Yeah, that's a bad thing.
I wonder what people here will say when a certain other former boxer and convicted rapist who also has been known to violently assault random people passes away. He is still something of a media darling as I recall seeing him on the news just a couple of days ago.
So in closing I choose to rise above the "I spit on your grave" bandwagon and put a
For a life wasted, which really is a sad thing.
posted by smoothvirus at 4:43 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

At least he's not infecting anyone else any more.

Not sure about that, I wonder what those he infected are up to?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:06 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

somewhere Mickey Rourke is getting greenlighted for this story.
posted by drowsy at 7:39 AM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

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