BROWN BOMBER: The Pilgrimage of Joe Louis by Barney Nagler

BROWN BOMBER: The Pilgrimage of Joe Louis

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Louis's life was like a kite nobody could reel in,"" writes Nagler in this deserving biography of the former boxing champion. Alternating chapters between the Bomber's ring career and his later bouts with paranoia picture Louis as a man capable -- until time caught up with him -- of demolishing powerful physical opponents but unable to cope with the furies of the psyche. The primary interest here centers on Nagler's descriptions of the latter tragic struggle -- the once great fighter refusing to eat, insisting that the Mafia was trying to poison his food; Louis pathetically calling the FBI or President Nixon, requesting protection because the walls of his bedroom were talking to him; the old champ systematically taping shut air conditioning vents wherever he stayed to stop the poison gas, or smearing mayonnaise over the cracks in the wall, or mumbling about a plot to involve him in making pornographic films or making delusional accusations about his wife (""Martha's in it, too,"" he told Nagler. ""She made a loan off the Mafia and couldn't pay it back, and they said she had to help them get rid of me""). There are other candid biographical notes here too -- Louis' insatiable gambling, his sexual affairs and the illegitimate child born in 1967, his perpetual indebtedness and IRS problems -- and it all reminds you how transitory is sports glory, how deceptive the easy buck, how fragile an ex-champ, and how unpredictable the human pilgrimage. Nagler, a veteran sportswriter, is both easy to read and worth reading.

Pub Date: May 18th, 1972
Publisher: World