George Kimball, one of our era’s great boxing writers, died yesterday, July 6, 2011.
I met George for the first and last time a few months ago. It would be at one of his final book readings. We were in a basement club in New York talking about boxing and our books. Actually, George wasn’t really talking. He had been diagnosed with inoperable esophageal cancer in the summer of 2005 and he didn’t look well. Cancer had made it impossible for him to speak at any length of time so he had an actor record a passage from a profile of Lenny DeJesus, the New York cutman and trainer. There was something haunting about listening to the piece that way. As he listened to his own piece of writing, it seemed to me that he was proud of it, but also interested in the reaction of the audience. He looked like a kid waiting for the approval of a father. He obviously still cared about writing, and it was inspiring to me. George’s profile was a meticulous piece of writing, but, in all honesty, the event was depressing because it felt like nobody cared about boxing books. Only a handful of people showed up, I probably went on too long about the dismal state of the sweet science and my adventures with Manny Pacquiao, and George didn’t look very well. He was determined to come to the reading, however, and he signed copies of his latest–and last–book, At the Fights American Writers On Boxing. (He wrote a nice inscription to me calling me “Pacquiao’s Boswell,” which I will treasure always.)
Kimball, if you’re not aware of his work, spent more than two decades at the Boston Herald, and also wrote for the Irish Times. He wrote beautifully about boxing and penned an outstanding book about the sport: Four Kings: Leonard, Hagler, Hearns, Duran, and the Last Great Era of Boxing (2008).
At the end of the evening, that night in April, I exchanged a few words with George and expressed my admiration for his writing. He smiled and shook my hand. Before I left, I talked to a friend who had accompanied him to the reading. She told me George was still making plans for articles, still trying to get to the boxing gym to hear the stories, and to turn them into prose. He was a writer, a boxing writer, to the end.