After 67 years of fighting every obstacle in his way -- poverty and segregation in childhood and Muhammad Ali in the three most famous fights of their careers -- world-champion Joe Frazier died of liver cancer Monday in Philadelphia.
"Often knocked down, never ever out," said Beaufortonian Matt McAlhaney, who first met "Smokin' Joe" Frazier 15 years ago. "He always answered the bell."
Although Philadelphia was his adopted home and the city where he rose to fame, heavyweight world champion Frazier was born Jan. 12, 1944, in Beaufort County and lived on 10 acres of family property in Laurel Bay. He grew up in and around the city of Beaufort.
He never forgot his roots, old friends said Tuesday.
When in town, Frazier would stop by Singleton's Barbershop on Charles Street, sometimes for a haircut and sometimes just to shoot the breeze, owner Ken Singleton said. He made time not just to take pictures with children in the shop and sign autographs, but also for humbler tasks.
"My son was a little boy, and he told him to keep his shoes tied," Singleton said. "It was very busy on a Saturday, and he got down on his knees and tied his shoe and told him to always keep his shoes tied."
But in a fight, the kid known as "Billy Boy" was "a bad dude," Singleton said Tuesday morning, smiling as he recalled their hardscrabble youth and Frazier's fights with Marines and in Beaufort juke joints. As teenagers, the two played each other in intramural basketball, but Singleton knew better than to challenge Frazier in the ring.
Frazier honed his wide shoulders working the family's farmland and stacking crates at a local Coca-Cola factory. He tempered his fists with countless hours working over a homemade punching bag stuffed with rags, corncobs, Spanish moss, weighted with a brick and hung by a rope, Singleton said. That's how Frazier crafted his signature left hook that floored Ali in 1971 during the first of their three epic fights.
"I think if he hadn't gone through what he went through, he wouldn't have had that left hook," Singleton said. "Hardship, hard work, sacrifice and dedication made Joe Frazier what he became. What a man has to go through, the more challenges, it builds a better person, better character and a better athlete."
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