In Search of Arnie Brower

By Robert Mladinich on March 18, 2019
In Search of Arnie Brower
“I have an addictive personality. I always liked walking a tightrope.” (Robert Mladinich)

Brower was trained by Charley Goldman, who a decade earlier had guided Rocky Marciano to the heavyweight championship of the world…

About a decade and a half ago I met Arnie Brower, a former heavyweight prospect who had fallen on hard times. He began attending Ring 8 meetings in New York and was trying to get his life back on track after some bumps in the road. Among other things, he was hoping to become a substitute teacher in the public-school system.

I recently attempted to locate Brower after many years. He was no longer at the address I had for him, and a public records search was of no help. I went in search of Brower, who would now be 78 years old, but was unable to locate him despite there being no indication that he had passed away. 

Brower had the kind of quintessential New York face that looked vaguely familiar to nearly everyone he encountered. His shock of hair, easy grace, welcoming smile, and regal white moustache made him look more like an aging Hollywood hunk than a onetime heavyweight boxer. 

The only evidence of his boxing career, which lasted from 1961 to 1975, was the slightly splattered nose that seemed as wide as it was long.

Brower was not a world-beater, but he was good enough to be trained by Charley Goldman, who a decade before he started working with Brower had guided Rocky Marciano to the heavyweight championship of the world.

At one point, Brower was undefeated in 15 fights, nine of which he won by knockout. In addition to his sterling record, his nickname, The Jewish Bomber, garnered him an abundance of New York press. 

By boxing standards, Brower was a breath of fresh air. He had graduated from the University of Connecticut with a degree in zoology. As the school’s social chairman, he had hosted the Connecticut governor and the Miss Israel beauty pageant winner when they visited the campus.

“The papers made a big deal over the fact that I was Jewish,” said Brower in a 2005 interview. “There was plenty of pressure just being a boxer, so I tried not to let it bother me. What I liked about going to the gym was that everybody was equal there.”

Although many of Brower’s bouts took place in the New York area, including several at the old Madison Square Garden, he was not averse to taking fights on the road. He laced them up throughout New England and as far away as Miami, Detroit, and Paris, France.

He sparred regularly with the murderous punching future light heavyweight champion Bob Foster, earning ten dollars a round. He more than held his own against Foster, who often pleaded, “You gotta stop hitting me in the ribs.”

Brower’s biggest fight was against Tom McNeeley at the Boston Garden in February 1965. Four years earlier, McNeeley had unsuccessfully challenged Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight title, and 30 years later his son Peter would face Mike Tyson. McNeeley stopped Brower in the tenth round.

“At that point I think I lost a few fights in a row, so his manager figured he could put a name on his record by throwing him in with me,” said McNeeley, who passed away in 2011.

“He was tough and determined and really tried to win. But I had way too much experience for him. It was a matter of too much, too soon.”

“That was the worst fight of my career,” said Brower. “Mentally and emotionally I was under a lot of strain. Looking back, I could’ve handled things better. But nobody knows how to do that when they’re young.”

Retiring from the ring for good with a record of 26-6-2 (17 KOs), Brower moved to Los Angeles where he ran a lucrative tool company, selling and renting everything from engine hoists to hydraulic presses.

After the breakup of his first marriage, which produced a daughter who was then a high school principal with whom he had no contact, he and the woman who would become his second wife moved to Montana.

They purchased a home near Missoula and got a 100-year lease on their land. They bought a horse, Brower sold real estate, and things were wonderful even though Brower jokes, “I was the only white man on the reservation and one of the only Jews in the state.”

“Arnie is the most atypical Jewish guy you’ll ever meet,” said boxing historian Mike Silver, who as a teenager was a big fan of Brower. “He’s a walking contradiction, and he defies anybody’s perception of convention.”

After a bitter divorce from his second wife in 1990, Brower left the Big Sky country and moved back to New York. As anonymous as he was broke, but still blessed with good looks and the body and athleticism of a man 30 years younger, Brower found himself battling crippling depression as he floundered through the city’s labyrinthine social services system. He lived on the street when it was warm, and in shelters when it was cold.

Social services enrolled him in an automotive trade school, where he met some new friends who introduced him to crack cocaine. In his early fifties, Brower became an unlikely addict.

“The friends that introduced me to it were black and the first few times I tried it, it had no effect,” said Brower. “They used to joke that the drug was only made for black people. But after two weeks I got high and it was an instant cure for my depression. I never felt happier in my life.”

As Brower soon learned, the highs were no less intense than the lows, which started to come with alarming frequency, especially when he couldn’t find the wherewithal to get himself a fix. Moreover, he found himself traveling to places he never could have imagined to purchase the product.

“Buying drugs is not like shopping at Woolworth’s,” he explained. “For a while it was hard convincing dealers I wasn’t a cop. I’ve been in cop (buying) lines in the ghetto, hellholes, places anyone in their right mind wouldn’t go. But I have an addictive personality. I always liked walking a tightrope, living on the edge. When I trained, I over-trained. When I worked, I overworked. When I got involved with crack, I went over the edge.”

Despite his ring career and drug abuse, Brower was not slurring his words or walking on his heels. He was vigorous and alert, lithe and muscular. He said he downed several vitamins a day and worked hard to keep himself fit. No one would have taken him for an ex-pug or a senior citizen with a monkey on his back.

“I’ll beat this someday, I know I will,” said Brower, who at the time delivered flowers and liquor for local merchants in his Upper West Side neighborhood.

I can only hope that Brower—wherever he may be—beat his demons and is enjoying his golden years in comfort and peace. He was a self-described survivor who had been to hell and back—and seemed to have emerged intact.

“I always thought you had to be crazy to be in the ring,” he said. “If you think surviving in the ring is tough, surviving in the ghetto is even tougher. It makes sparring with Bob Foster seem like kid stuff.”

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  1. Pete 09:20am, 03/21/2019

    Poignant reportage, as usual. Thanks, Mr. Mladinich, and best hopes for Mr. Brower.

  2. peter 07:54am, 03/21/2019

    I remember reading about Arnie Brower, but knew little about him.  Mladinich’s article touches deftly on the rhythms of his seesaw life—the blackness inside a mind snarled by drugs, his brainpain, and his victories in the ring over many formidable opponents—New York’s hard-hitting Sergio Rodriguez, Billy Marsh, Clay Thomas, tough Bob Stallings, and fringe-contender, Henry Wallitsch. I never miss reading a Robert Mladinich article. This one grabbed me by the stomach and squeezed hard. Reading Mladinich’s words about Brower’s descent into drugs made me flinch…Then I do what I always do—go to Boxrec to look up Brower’s record record. Thanks for another excellent article, Mr. Mladinich.

  3. Bruce 08:11pm, 03/18/2019

    Robert, Thank you for an informative and interesting article.  There is a 78-year old Arnold Brower aka Arnie Brower listed on in NYC, just in case you didn’t see it.

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