Quarrymen: The Not-So-Sweet Science

By Robert Mladinich on August 20, 2012
Quarrymen: The Not-So-Sweet Science
Boxing is “a one-on-one confrontation with your life," Jerry slurred, "that you can’t win.”

Boxing, it seemed, was the only Quarry family business. The patriarch, Jack, who was 81 when I spoke with him in his nursing home, wouldn’t have had it any other way…

In the early 1990s my first wife, who passed away in 1996, encouraged me to get back into boxing writing after a 10-year hiatus. Realizing that it was a good idea, I booked a flight to Las Vegas for the heavyweight title bout between Lennox Lewis and Tony Tucker in May 1993. I got there about three or four days early to take in all of the pre-fight hoopla.

The Internet had not yet been discovered and I remember being in awe of the boxing beat writers in attendance. I thought that guys like Michael Katz, Wallace Matthews, Bernard Fernandez, Ron Borges, Ed Schuyler and Pat Putnam, all of whom wrote about boxing for a living, had the best jobs in the world.

I made quite a few contacts and embarked on the second phase of my writing career, but the highlight of my trip was meeting Jerry Quarry. Although he had been enormously popular a few decades earlier, he entered the arena relatively unrecognized. When I introduced myself to him, he told me to take a seat and we chatted for several hours.

He was cognizant of his surroundings, extremely articulate and engaging, and a pleasure to be around. Little did I know that that night would set the stage for me becoming inexplicably linked to the Quarry clan, who would unwittingly provide a cautionary tale about the not-so-sweet science.

Jerry Quarry was unquestionably the most popular heavyweight boxer in history to never win a world title. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he was an icon, the Great White Hope who battled such legendary champions as Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Ken Norton and Floyd Patterson in compiling a record of 53-9-4 (32 KOs).

Although Quarry never became a champion, his immense fame enabled him to secure high-profile product endorsements, as well as appearances on Bob Hope specials and guest-starring roles on such top-rated 1960s television shows as “Adam-12” and “I Dream of Jeannie.”

Besides being as handsome as any Hollywood heartthrob, Randy Gordon, the former chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission, said that as a young man Quarry could not only “fight like hell, he could complete the New York Times crossword puzzle in 15 minutes.”

Boxing historian Mike Silver recalled that in the late 1970s, after the first of several ill-fated comebacks, Quarry worked as a CBS boxing commentator and was “sharp, witty, charismatic and insightful.”

But the countless punches Quarry absorbed during a whirlwind 17-year career, as well as problems with cocaine and alcohol, eventually took their toll. Just three years after I met him, it was widely reported that he was suffering from pugilistica dementia, the medical name for severe brain damage caused by repeated blows to the head. The insidious disease, which is similar to advanced Alzheimer’s, had reportedly turned the once intelligent, vibrant, charming and good-natured fighter into a confused, childlike man.

In the spring of 1995, I interviewed Jerry at length at his brother Jimmy’s home in Hemet, California. Jerry was living there because he was unable to care for himself. Jimmy, who was a loan officer at a bank, said Jerry would awaken each day and go for a long walk, which kept him near his peak fighting weight of 210 pounds. During his daily strolls he would engage gardeners or UPS drivers in conversations, all of which started and ended the same way.

“Jerry will ask them if they are boxing fans,” said Jimmy. “Regardless of the answer, he will ask them if they ever heard of Jerry Quarry. If they say no, he will ask them if they ever heard of Muhammad Ali or Joe Frazier. They all say yes. Then Jerry says, ‘Well, I fought them both.’”

While that sounded harmless enough, Jerry would inevitably get lost and have to be driven home by the police.

That same week, I also visited Jerry and Jimmy’s brother Mike, who had been a top-rated light-heavyweight during a 13-year career that ended in 1981 and saw him compile a record of 62-13-6 (16 KOs).

At that time, another boxing brother, Robert, who was 17 years Jerry’s junior and 12 years younger than Mike, was incarcerated in a state prison for theft and drug charges.

Robert fought professionally as a heavyweight from 1982 to 1992, compiling a record of 9-12-2 (6 KOs). His most notable opponent was Tommy Morrison, who stopped him in two rounds in Las Vegas in 1992. 

In his heyday, Mike had resembled a teen idol but in 1995, at the age of 44, his once boyishly handsome face was battered beyond recognition. His eyelids were hooded, his nose was smashed, his once animated eyes were a dim blue, and the slabs of facial scar tissue gave him the look of a fire survivor.

He was working as a groundskeeper at the same church in which he worshipped in La Mirada, California. On this day he was lamenting over his misplacing of a lawn edger. Although he would have to make good on it, he was grateful that the church would “only take a little bit out of my check each week until it’s paid for.”

Most troubling, however, were his problems with short-term memory.

“My thoughts didn’t synchronize well,” he explained when describing why he had enrolled in a memory retention class. “I drive my wife to church, forget where I took her, and [try to] pick her up at the Anaheim Hilton. I couldn’t remember anything. It has gotten better since taking classes, but I’m still no rocket scientist.”

In better days Mike had done his share of broadcasting and product endorsements, and had hoped to parlay those experiences into a more lucrative and respectable post-fight career. But like so many fighters before and after him, he lived off what was left of his name for too many years and too many fights.

No beating was worse than the one he took from longtime light heavyweight champion Bob Foster in June 1972. Unbeaten in 36 previous bouts, and depending on one’s perspective, blessed or cursed with youthful feelings of invincibility, Mike took the fight right to the much taller Foster, only to be knocked cold by a left hook in the fourth round.

“I did very good for three rounds,” said Mike proudly. “I was doing the Ali shuffle and making him miss. In the fourth he hit me with a left hook that ranks with the best of all time. People say he got lucky. But he was a great champion, and I truly believe that luck happens when preparation meets opportunity; when you get paid back for all those extra miles you go. That just wasn’t my day.”

“That was the only time I was concerned I might have killed somebody,” Foster told me a few years later at the International Boxing Hall of Fame. “I hit him with a left hook, and his eyes weren’t moving. Then they moved in his head, and I only saw white. I said, ‘He’s dead!’ My manager said, ‘Business is business.’”

A few weeks before my visits with the Quarrys, brother Jimmy, then 50, had publicly announced the formation of a nonprofit organization called the Jerry Quarry Foundation. The foundation would raise enough money through fundraisers and corporate donations to pay pensions and provide health care coverage to disabled fighters. His poster boy, of course, was Jerry and, to a lesser degree, Mike. 

Every penny of Jerry’s approximately $3 million in career purses was gone, squandered by three ex-wives, child support, and no shortage of bad investments that included an office building in Inglewood, California, an apartment building in Orange County, and a condominium in Hawaii. At the time his sole income was $614 dollars a month from Social Security. 

Although Jerry appeared all but comatose, Jimmy would regularly bring him to boxing functions where he would dutifully wipe drool from his mouth or tell reporters about Jerry’s inability to handle the most basic human functions. This was certainly the picture that was painted for me during my home visit. Jerry seemed to be the mental equivalent of an eight-year-old, and a slow one at that.

He continually wanted to play-fight with Jimmy, making such childish boasts as, “I can take you.” When Jerry offered crude, unconvincing arguments about his condition, it seemed that the words had been ingrained in his psyche because they spewed forth as easily as the jabs he could still throw on instinct alone.

“At least I can talk, man,” Jerry said. “I fought Ali and Frazier, and they can’t talk.” For the record, Ali was, and still is, battling Parkinson’s syndrome, while Frazier, who has since passed away but had taken his share of punches from the best in the business, was verbally adept at the time. 

As kind and caring as Jimmy may have seemed to outsiders, many family members were simmering over his actions. One sister called the foundation a “ruse,” and said Jimmy was using it for his own book and movie deals. More compellingly, she accused her brother of intentionally overmedicating Jerry whenever he was to be brought out in public.

Not long after my visit, Jerry’s oldest son, Jerry Lyn, went to Jimmy’s house and, according to Robert, “kidnapped him” and brought him back to more benevolent family members. Under the care of a doctor, they helped wean Jerry off the drugs that had rendered him all but zombie-like.

Months later, when I saw Jerry on television talking somewhat lucidly I was aghast that I, like so many others, had been duped by Jimmy. Those suspicions were only reinforced during an August 2003 trip to Bakersfield, California, where I interviewed brother Robert, the baby of the family, and father Jack, who for many years had been demonized by the sporting press for the integral role he played in the meteoric ascensions and cataclysmic declines of Jerry and Mike. 

“I don’t want to get down on a dead man who can’t defend himself, but come on,” offered Robert. “Jimmy and Jerry never really got along, and then suddenly when Jerry couldn’t take care of himself anymore, Jimmy was his best friend? Jimmy was just taking advantage of Jerry to highlight himself. He once told me, ‘This is how I can make my mark, the way Jerry and Mike made their mark.’ So he’s puts Jerry on Thorazine and shows the world how bad he is. He even sold his memorabilia and pocketed money from the foundation.”

Between my two visits with the Quarry clan, a creepy familial saga emerged that was both Shakespearean and Dickensian. Bob Foster could not have known how prophetic his comment three decades earlier about business being business had been. Boxing, it seemed, was the only Quarry family business. The patriarch, Jack, who was 81 when I spoke with him in his nursing home, wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Jack was a hard luck drifter who had left his native Oklahoma at the age of 14. He traveled the American West, riding the rails, sleeping in labor camps, and relying on his fists more than his wits. He was a rough, crude man whose sole passion was fighting, whether it was in bars, railway yards or makeshift arenas set up at work camps.

“I went where the wind blew,” said Jack as he lay in his bed, surrounded by photos of his fighting sons and charming the female orderlies with ease.

“I realize now I was a scared, backwoods boy. But I grew up quick on those freight trains, cutting the queers off of me. They wanted to make a punk out of me, and I wasn’t gonna let that happen.”

At the age of 15, in Shafter, California, a small desert town 20 miles north of Bakersfield, Jack had his meaty fingers amateurishly tattooed with the words “Hard Luck.” Little did he know that those two words would become a metaphor not only for his own life, but for the lives of his eight children.

While still in his teens Jack had married Arwanda, a beautiful girl of Irish descent who hailed from rural Arkansas. They would have eight children; four girls and four boys. The only boy who did not box professionally was Jimmy, the oldest, who died of lung cancer in 2002, his philanthropic ambitions never realized.

The family’s itinerant ways did not stop with each new child. They moved regularly throughout California, always looking for work and a better way of life.

“It seems like we were always living at the end of a cotton patch with signs that said ‘Okies and Dogs Keep Off The Grass,’’ Jack recalled. “We were poor, all we knew was dirt floors and throwing crap into the street. And people never let us forget that.”

Other than boxing, the boys’ childhood memories were few. “Dad would brag to all his friends in the bars that his sons would be world champions someday,” recalled Jimmy. “We would fight in bars or in back rooms or a backyard. We would mostly fight each other because there were no other kids to fight. We didn’t like it, but we wouldn’t have dared say no. We realize now that he was just living his life through us. We were going to make up for his failures.”

“I was always an A-student,” Jerry slurred after being prodded by Jimmy. “I would have loved to go to college, maybe become a baseball player. My father made me a fighter. The only memories I have are of boxing. Nothing else! And boxing is a cruel and vicious sport, a one-on-one confrontation with your life that you can’t win.”

Jack did not deny “encouraging” his kids to fight, but insisted his reasons were not so sinister or selfish. He too had moved often as a youngster and found that fighting was the only way he was able to garner acceptance among his peers.

“As a kid I would wish in one hand, spit in the other and see which one filled up quickest,” he explained. “I never rode a bicycle or threw a football or a baseball in my life. I never roller-skated or did any kid things. I was always the stranger in town, and my family never stayed in one town for more than a few weeks. My brother was seven years older than me and an amateur boxer. I used to take the gloves to a park wherever we were, and let some other kid give me a beating just to get some attention. It made me feel like one of the guys. That was the only way I knew to reach my kids.”

According to Jerry and Jimmy, there was one incident that left an indelible impression on both of them. One day Jimmy was involved in a softball game with a group of new friends. An argument ensued and he walked away from a fight. At seven years old he was used to fighting on a regular basis, and although good at it, he despised it. When Jack got word of his resistance, he cursed and berated him, called him a sissy and a coward and kept screaming, “You’re not a Quarry, you’re a quitter.”

It didn’t end there.

“He made me strip naked in front of the whole family,” Jimmy recalled unflinchingly. “He made me get my sister’s bottle and one of her diapers. He pinned the diaper on me and made me suck the bottle. I had to say ‘I’m not a Quarry, I’m a quitter’ over and over. After that my whole childhood was filled with dread and fear and self-doubt. But for Jerry it had the opposite effect. I’ll never forget it. Jerry watched the whole thing, and looked very scared. After it was over, he walked up to me, dead serious, almost like an adult, and said, ‘That will never happen to me.’ He was only six years old. That was the major difference between Jerry and I. He could take it. I couldn’t.”

Jack said he didn’t specifically recall that incident, but offered an ambiguous explanation nonetheless.

“Jimmy was always a pants-wetter and Jerry was a bed-wetter,” he said. “I might have made them wear a diaper to school or around the house. But the way Jimmy says it, that would have stood out. My daughter mentioned that to me, but I don’t remember it. And believe me, I would have remembered that.”

What he did remember well were Jerry’s glory years, which he also said were the best years of his own life. In 1965 Jerry won the National Golden Gloves heavyweight title in Kansas City by scoring five straight knockouts. Although he was only six-feet-tall and 180 pounds, he pulverized much larger opponents in brutal fashion. However, when he turned pro with great fanfare in May of that year, Jack said he was wary of taking an active role in his son’s career.

“Jerry wanted me to train and manage him,” said Jack. “I told him that father-son relationships didn’t always work. I said that the most I could do would be to take half [of the responsibility], so we created a system of scales and balances. Johnny Flores (a Mexican-American) would be the front man because he had such a good reputation in Los Angeles, even though he hated me because I was a gringo.”

Jack was the first to admit that he and Flores were out of their element, especially with a prospect as hot as Jerry.

“Jerry pulled our chestnuts out of the fire many times,” he said. “We would put him in over his head, but Jerry would find a way to beat them.”

As active a roll as Jack took in Jerry’s career, it was no secret that he didn’t feel the fleet-footed, light-hitting Mike had what it took to be fighting at any level. “Michael was too weak, was always sick as a child, and had a crooked arm from falling off a monkey bar,” explained Jack.

“He had a lot of guts, and never let you know if you were hurting him. I kept telling him you can’t just make guys miss and win fights. Someone once told me he was such a good boxer, he could go through his career without getting hit. Well, that sure turned out to be wrong.”

Oddly enough, Mike said that Jerry was even more sickly than he was as a child, but that never precluded Jack from taking a greater interest in Jerry’s career.

“Jerry wanted so bad to please my father,” explained Mike. “He would do anything. One time Jerry got real sick in high school with nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys), and went to school for half days. My father called him a mama’s boy, a wimp. Jerry was real hurt. As a boxer he took the same whippings he took as a boy.”

While Jerry would do anything to please his father, Mike, realizing the futility of doing the same, tried desperately to please his older brother instead. 

“I was always Jerry’s younger brother,” he explained. “I could never accomplish anything on my own. It was like that since we were children, in the ring and out. Jerry was a great brother though, he always took care of me. When we were teenagers, he had so many girlfriends and I was like a tagalong. Jerry would always have them kiss me to make me feel good. When we were boxing, I got so many breaks because of him.”

The one place Jerry wasn’t so familial was when he and Mike sparred, which was often. Jerry regularly gave his little brother dreadful beatings.

“He never knocked him out, which he could have done any time, but he never went easy on him either,” said Robert. “I guess it was just a brother thing.”

One time a reporter asked Jack who he rooted for when his two sons squared off.

“Whoever’s losing,” he snapped.

Because of the tremendous age difference between Robert and Jerry, Robert worshipped Mike in much the same fashion Mike worshipped Jerry. And because Jack and Arwanda divorced shortly after Robert was born, Mike became the major male influence in Robert’s life. Besides buying him his first bicycle and mini-bike, he was also the first person to teach him how to hook off the jab. Although Robert was a standout high school athlete, excelling in baseball and basketball, because of his bloodlines he felt he had no choice but to pursue boxing. However, as rugged and willing as he was, he lost more than he won because his heart just wasn’t into it.

“Being a Quarry had its pros and cons,” he said. “I had big shoes to fill. Promoters never gave me an easy fight, so I was never able to climb the ladder. Because I was a Quarry, it was expected that I was tough. I never backed up. I guess I was tough, people always told me I was. I was probably too tough for my own good.”

Like his fighting brothers, both of whom had abused cocaine for years before quitting, Robert eventually developed a drug habit that began with cocaine and ended with methamphetamine. He lived under the radar for many years, getting by on street hustles and sporadically picking up fights throughout the United States and as far away as Japan. Whatever natural talent he had quickly waned, and because of his name, he continually found himself playing second fiddle to his opponents.

Besides serving multiple stints in prison, he paid a high price for his lifestyle. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, which some of his doctors attributed solely to boxing.

When I interviewed him in 2003, Robert said he was living with what he called the “Quarry Curse,” a euphemism for his brother Mike’s oft-quoted phrase, “the long slide down.” Clean and sober for two years at that time, Robert and his wife were the parents of two young children.

But just weeks before my visit he had been laid off from his janitorial job at a local country club. Actively seeking work with several temp agencies, he refused to give in to the hard luck existence he was living.

“I took an aptitude test and tested at the college level in everything,” he said. “My perception comprehension is good, but I talk slow, my arm shakes, and I’m named Quarry. It’s hard to get past the stereotype.”

Like Mike, much of the pressure Bobby felt about becoming a boxer was self directed. He rarely saw his father as a youngster, so he clung to Mike the same way Mike had clung to Jerry. In the end he was bamboozled and betrayed by boxing as much as his father and brothers were.

If you listened to Jimmy, the source of the betrayal was Papa Jack. If you listened to others, Jack’s actions paled in comparison to Jimmy’s manipulation of Jerry.

Jimmy never boxed professionally, but he was Jerry’s biggest cheerleader and sycophant during the dizzying heights of his career. In later years he also became his father’s biggest critic, telling anyone who would listen about Jack’s mistreatment of the family. He said that when Jerry lost a decision to Jimmy Ellis in 1968, in the finals of a tournament held to determine a successor to Muhammad Ali after Ali had been stripped of his title for draft evasion, Jerry was fighting with a “broken back.”

Rather than postpone or cancel the fight, which would have been in Jerry’s best interests, Jimmy said, “My father and Johnny [Flores] shot him up with cortisone so they wouldn’t miss out on the $125,000 purse. That Okie and that Mexican never saw so much money in their lives.”

Again, Jack remembered things differently. “Before the fight, Jerry said his back was hurting him,” he explained. “He had hurt it in a swimming pool accident four years earlier, and always had problems with it. Flores took him to a doctor who said it was the same as usual. I said nothing because it would have done no good. Jerry never said he didn’t want to go through with the fight. Anyway, it wouldn’t have done any good for me to say anything. You couldn’t tell Jerry Quarry he couldn’t do something. He would climb in the ring with crutches if he had to. He was that competitive.”

Moreover, Jack added, the swimming pool injury had all but healed during the time in question.  According to Jack, what Jimmy didn’t tell me was that Jerry’s latest back injury stemmed from him being slammed into a jukebox by Jimmy during a drunken family gathering. Regardless of how that injury, or any injury, occurred, surprisingly enough Jimmy always insisted that winning or losing wasn’t what was most important to Jack. What was important, he declared, was how much punishment his sons could absorb.

“Jerry was a great fighter,” said Jimmy. “That has never been disputed. He had the talent to become champion, and stay a champion a long time. But Jerry always wanted to please my father, and our manhood was always measured by how tough we were, not how talented we were or how much we learned in school or how much knowledge we accumulated. The only thing that mattered was our toughness.”

“I tried to please my daddy, too,” countered Jack. “And he was an escaped convict who lived his whole life on the lam.”

The only thing everyone seemed to agree on was that it was not in Jerry’s best interests to be living with Jimmy. When Jerry Lyn spirited him away, it was obvious that he wasn’t going to get better, but at least his health would deteriorate out of the glare of the spotlight and Jerry could die with a modicum of dignity.

“The rest of the family had Jerry’s best interests at heart,” said Robert. “But by that time he was bad, real bad. Sometimes he would just stare at my mother and repeat over and over, ‘I love you, I love you.’ It got annoying, because it never stopped. It was so methodical, childish, really irritating.”

Shortly after Christmas 1999, news began circulating that Jerry was on life support and hovering near death. His entire family was at his bedside for his final days. An ailing Jack even came from Virginia, where he had been battling prostate cancer. Jerry passed away on January 3, 1999 at the age of 53. The official cause of death was pneumonia, which was directly linked to pugilistica dementia.

“The brain disconnects itself from the body,” Jimmy said at the time. “Most Alzheimer’s patients die of pneumonia because the brain stops sending the body messages to clean out its lungs. My brother has lost his ability to swallow or cough or clear the fluid out.”

“I bawled like a baby when I saw him,” said Jack. “I wish it could have been me instead of him. But I couldn’t have done anything differently. Jerry had to be Jerry Quarry. He was very insecure and always needed confirmation. The only way he could get it was from boxing.”

Asked if he, as a father, could have done anything to have prevented the Quarry curse, especially in four boys of above average intelligence with seemingly limitless potential outside of boxing, he was defensive. It was apparent that he could not view his life, or the lives of his sons, through any other prism than boxing.

“I had 300, 400 fights and bar fights in my life,” he railed. “Nothing ever happened to me. I often ask God, why him and not me?”

“My father and mother did the best they could with what they had,” said Robert. “But they didn’t have much. No education, no lessons in life that nowadays we take for granted. They went with what they had, and things didn’t turn out that good. You know what happened to Jerry and Mike. And all of my sisters have been divorced at least once. Because I’m so much younger, I didn’t see a lot of it growing up, but our life was like ‘Peyton Place.’ There was always lots of drama.”

(“Peyton Place” was a 1960s evening soap opera that starred, among others, Ryan O’Neal. Its main themes were dysfunctions, betrayals and infidelities in a seemingly idyllic small town called Peyton Place).

Jimmy died of lung cancer three years after Jerry, and Mike passed away at the age of 55 in June 2006. His cause of death was pugilistica dementia. Mike was survived by his wife Ellen, a marriage counselor who cared greatly for him.

After Mike died, I was very saddened for more than the obvious reasons. When I had visited him at the church nine years earlier, I was accompanied by photographer Teddy B. Blackburn, a good friend, and another writer who will remain nameless. Teddy and I had planned to go alone, but this writer invited himself at the last minute.

He was one of those many writers who can never find a story in the loser’s dressing room. He had no patience being around a punch drunk former icon, and his annoying body language indicated he couldn’t get away from Mike quick enough. I had planned on taking Mike to lunch, but this writer’s presence would have made that very uncomfortable.

Mike kept hinting that he would have loved to be taken to lunch. It was obvious that it would have meant the world to him, as it would have to me as well. To this day, I admonish myself for caving in to this writer’s disinterest and petulance. In all fairness, the writer later said he felt that Teddy and I were “exploiting” Mike by having him pose by his lawn mower in boxing gloves. While I beg to differ, he’s entitled to his opinion. 

Mike’s death also reminded me of the 2002 Memorial Day weekend when I visited Jerry’s grave in Shafter Memorial Park, near Bakersfield. On the stone was a photo of him, his hands wrapped, his ruggedly handsome face looking out into eternity. Etched under his name were the words “The Great White Hope” and “The Best Of All Times.”

As I stood under the unrelenting sun, a long freight train meandered down the tracks adjoining the cemetery. I imagined a vagabond Quarry-like family aboard, headed for a crop and the precarious stability of some temporary work. Directly across the street was a huge field filled with endless rows of apple trees, all of which looked like they were weeks away from being picked.

I couldn’t help but be struck by one particular irony. Here lay Jerry Quarry who was Hollywood handsome, an idol to millions, including me, and the challenger to historical boxing figures like Ali, Frazier and a veritable who’s who of top contenders. For much of Jerry’s life he had it all, only to have lost everything he fought so hard to attain. 

His boxing career had taken him all over the world, brought him an abundance of squandered riches, and no shortage of fame, glory and idolatry. But in the end, he wound up just a few steps away from where it all began. It could be argued from a figurative sense that life dealt Jerry harder blows than his opponents ever did.

In yet another ironic twist, seven years later Mike would join him in the same cemetery, destined to once again—and forever onward—be in his older brother’s shadow.

Most people who knew the Quarrys would say that they would never consider themselves victims. With the exception of Jimmy, all of the Quarry men were or are too proud to seek refuge in the cloak of victimization. On different occasions, Robert and Mike were both quite philosophical about what had become of their lives, staying true to the family mantra that there is no quit in a Quarry.

“My nerve impulses are erratic and my left arm shakes all the time,” said Robert. “Whether or not it was caused by boxing really doesn’t matter. I’ve been through a lot, and I am always learning more about life and about my family. I’m getting very wise as I get older, and hopefully I can pass that wisdom onto my children who I love more than anything. The only thing about wisdom though, is that when you finally reach the age of it you’re too old to do anything about it.”

“I guess fame is always fleeting unless you’re Elvis Presley or somebody like that,” Mike told me that day at the church. “But this is the real world. It seems that our lives were lived forward and learned backward.”

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  1. Chris Gould 07:47pm, 02/09/2017

    Wonderful article. Very insightful examination of this most extraordinary family.

  2. jesse kaellis 12:56am, 05/15/2014

    A very well written and insightful article. I read it word for word, right through. You are a very good writer. Thank you sir.

  3. Jack 04:56pm, 01/25/2014

    Ray Mac, I know your post is a year old, but possibly you will read my post in response to your comments. The first question I have is, where is the rule of journalism that states: you must supply solutions or have a definitive opinion to any issues or problems that may be documented in any article you write?  My initial thoughts were, either you may be suffering from some type of dementia yourself, which I would apologize if that is the case, or you are some type of bleeding heart liberal ( A Communist? ), who feels everyone needs to be controlled and are incapable of making decisions for themselves. You did mention the abolution ( you probably meant abolition of boxing ) which may give some insight into your post, because you are completely out of step with all the other posts on the article.!!!!! On the subject of the article, which I feel gave very good insight into Jack and his 4 sons, my neighbor, Odell, used to be a sparring partner for Jerry back in L.A. He fought as an amateur on some of Jerry’s cards at the Olympic Auditorium, when they had mixed amateur and professional fight cards. He had some insightful stories to relate about how brutal some of the sparring were and how much punishment was dished out and received during those sessions. Great article Robert!!!

  4. Tex Hassler 05:27pm, 01/18/2014

    Jerry Quarry was a gifted fighter and it is truly heart breaking to learn of his and Mike’s treatment by their father. They deserved much better and I already knew about some of this but it is still sad. To this day Jerry Quarry is one of my favorite fighters. Tremendous article.

  5. David Payne 09:44am, 01/12/2014

    Robert. Thank you for this.

  6. Ray Mac 05:00pm, 02/02/2013

    I find the article as entirely imcomplete. Mr Maladinich while writing favorably about the Quarry’s for the most part. Does not offer any solutions on how to prevent other boxers from ending up like the Quarry’s.

    The article leaves one with the feeling that it’s the Quarry’s blood that was spilled for the enjoyment of the so called “Boxing fan”.. And that while unfortunate Mr Maladnich enjoyed the entire ride of the Quarry’s career, and regards their ending as collateral damage on the part of boxing. Sad but not expected. Mr Maldinich, leaves one with the impression that the story of the Quarry brothers is par for the course in boxing

    At no point in the article does Mr Maldinich indicate what type of action should be taken in the future to avoid a repeat of the Quarry tragedy. At best the article is informative about the “Requiem of a Heavyweight”, aspect of the Quarry’s llfe. But unlike the famed novel “Requimen for a Heavyweight”, which called for the abolution of boxing. Mr Maldinich just sits on the fence and does not have the insight to make a call. On the elimination of future Jerry and Mike Quarry’s. What is Mr Maladinich point?
    Fnjoy their careers and mourn there post careers.I just wish ne would make his position known.

  7. Eric 02:01pm, 11/18/2012

    One has to wonder if Jerry Quarry had come along in the Fifties during Marciano or Patterson’s reigns if he could have won the title. Well we at least saw Jerry floor Patterson twice in both of their fights and come away with a draw and a win in two closely contested bouts. Opinions on who won both of those fights vary but nonetheless it proves that Quarry could’ve been a legitimate champion in the Patterson era. Saying Jerry Quarry would’ve had a chance at Marciano borders on blashphemy to some hardcore Marciano fans, but not to those who would look at this matchup realistically. Quarry was of course an excellent counter puncher and could be very cute in the ring i.e. his fight against the 6’3” 220lb Ron Lyle, where Jerry completely schooled the powerful, much larger Lyle. And while Jerry might not have been a puncher in the league of the legendary Marciano, he definitely carried some wallop in his punches. For once at least going against Marciano, the 6’ 195-198lb Quarry would actually have a height, weight, and reach advantage over the 5’11” 185-187lb Marciano. Frazier, a fighter who conquered Quarry twice, is a fighter who is often compared to Marciano. Of course in the second fight with Quarry, Joe completely destroyed a different version of the Quarry who Joe fought in their first fight. In the first fight Quarry fought competitively and was doing well, but elected to slug with Frazier instead of using his superior counterpunching skills. The fight was 1969’s Fight of the Year. Could Quarry have beaten past prime versions of Ezzard Charles, Joe Walcott, Archie Moore, and Joe Louis? Surely Quarry could’ve bested a Harry Matthews, a Roland LaStarza, a Don Cockell, or any other of Marciano’s victims.  While I think Big George Foreman is just being nice when he says he that he avoided Jerry Quarry, I’m sure Norton waited till he knew that Quarry’s skills and focus had faded enough to make him little more than a name opponent to pad his record with. Quarry, by the time of the Norton fight, had become quite fond of alcohol and cocaine. It was said that after a Norton vs. Bonavena fight fell through, Quarry was offered the fight and only trained a couple of weeks for the Norton fight. Still one can see Quarry show flashes of his old skills and make the fight somewhat competitive while it lasted. Prime Quarry vs Prime Norton would’ve been a helluva fight and could have went either way. The only way Quarry loses to a Jimmy Ellis is with that back injury and being too cautious, and of course the weird loss to Chuvalo is just one of those weird happenings in the sportsworld.

  8. Allan Crandall 03:48pm, 11/03/2012

    I’ve been a fan of Jerry Quarry since the age of 12 when I watched him destroy Thad Spencer and have read everything available including the biography “Hard Luck”. This is one of the best pieces I’ve read and even has new information I haven’t seen before. Like the author, I went to visit his grave in Shafter and was lucky enough to meet him a few years before his death. Jerry’s “Grapes of Wrath” story has always intrigued me and I have to congratulate Robert Mladinich on a very fine piece of work!

  9. Max Hord 03:32pm, 09/01/2012

    Most guys I trained with are gone. Mike Q and I became fiends in 1975. He was a real friend and it didn’t matter if you could fight or not. He was just a nice and sincere individual who always had a smile and handshake. He is missed.

  10. Gianna Garbelli 01:11am, 08/27/2012

    I did not know Jerry Quarry, but your writing is so heart sincere ... It seems I met him. Thank you,  wonderful job!

  11. Tokyo Rosenthal 08:15pm, 08/26/2012

    Bob-
    you have always been one of my favorite writers but you outdid yourself this time. Very moving story, great writing.
    All the best,
    Toke/Arnie

  12. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 02:12pm, 08/23/2012

    One more thing…all those years ago when Jerry was a shooting star the L.A. Herald Examiner ran a full page photo of a very young Jerry in his corner ready to spring into action with Johnny Flores leaning over his shoulder. This is how I’ll always remember him!

  13. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 02:02pm, 08/23/2012

    Which reminds me….take a good look at the photo above….Jerry was a Cruiserweight as ever there was. Timing is everything in this thing called life….it was Jerry’s luck to come of age just as the modern day large size heavyweights were coming on the scene….and he did not fall into that category. May God rest his soul.

  14. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 12:59pm, 08/22/2012

    Bob Mladinich-Simply a great article….there were only two that Jerry couldn’t beat….Ali and Frazier. In my view if Norton had been in the other corner in 1970 instead of Mac Foster he would have suffered the same fate and would not have had the great career that he did. The Chuvalo fiasco should never have happened and belongs in Ripley’s archives! That fight and the Ellis fight still hang there out in the ether!

  15. Bob Mladinich 04:36am, 08/22/2012

    Thank you for the kind words. It is my pleasure to be a contributor to boxing.com. With all the great talent, I feel like I’m lucky enough to be a member of the 1927 Yankees.

  16. Peter 05:07pm, 08/21/2012

    I saw how long this Quarry article was and I said to myself, “Well, I’ll read it in two or three sittings.” But once I started reading it, I couldn’t tear myself away. What a great article. Mlandinich is without a doubt our modern-day John Steinbeck of boxing writers. He seems to be attracted to the earthiness and lowliness within the fight game, but he invariably comes up with loftier things for the reader—like truth, humanity and, yes, soul.

  17. Darrell 03:14pm, 08/21/2012

    Great read….had moist eyes after that.

    May it be better luck for the surviving Quarrys.

  18. the thresher 10:05am, 08/21/2012

    Great photo as well. I thought I had all the rare Quarry photos (see them on my facebook account), but I did not have this one. A real gem. Bob was kind enough to let me have the photo he took of Mike when he had PD and it is troubling to look at.

    Bob is now on some kind of roll with his work and seems to be at the top of his game. We are lucky to have him on Boxing.com along with so many other fine writers.  I learn something new from each and every article.

  19. Gordon Marino 06:36am, 08/21/2012

    Amazing article. Many thanks.

  20. THE THRESHER 05:45am, 08/21/2012

    Mike, yeah, the Beach Boys represnted another American Tragedy or at least BW did. But what LA memories!!

  21. mikecasey 05:27am, 08/21/2012

    Ted, I think you’re spot on with the gene theory in both cases (Quarry/Moyer). I saw that picture of Denny and Phil holding hands and wearing protective hats and it made me want to weep. Jack Quarry’s hackneyed tales of toughness always left a bad taste in my mouth. The Jack/Jerry thing has incredible parallels with Murray Wilson/Brian Wilson and the tortuous saga of the Beach Boys. Desperate fathers seeking glory through their sons.

  22. the thresher 04:49am, 08/21/2012

    Jerry was a personal friend and it just tears me apart to read about him. He was a prince and very smart, but the entire thing is an American Ttragedy.

    Robert captured the soulfulness of the Quarry story and that’s what matters.

    As for Mike, he was very religious but the Foster thing started him on his way down and Rossman didn’t help matters. When he got PD, I was blown away but then realized that it might have something to do with the family’s genes. It was a theory that Bobby Czyz expounded on as well and so so did I because the coinidence was simply too great. The Moyer brothers also fit this horrible pattern.

    Like I said, a terrible story all the way around—right up to the Cranmer episode and what happened in Wisconsin before that fight was allowed to happen in Colorado. That is a very dark story—as dark as it can get.

  23. Jethro's Flute 04:06am, 08/21/2012

    A sad and cautionary tale.

    I take issue with one bit - “No beating was worse than the one he took from longtime light heavyweight champion Bob Foster in June 1972. Unbeaten in 36 previous bouts, and depending on one’s perspective, blessed or cursed with youthful feelings of invincibility, Mike took the fight right to the much taller Foster, only to be knocked cold by a left hook in the fourth round.”

    Yes, Foster hurt him bad but that was only one punch. Surely it was much more damaging for Mike to be constantly sparring with his bigger, stronger brother who was quite a big puncher in a higher division?

    A good book to read is ‘Hard Luck’ by David Avila that details both Mike and Jerry’s respective careers. According to the writer, Mike should have been thinking of retiring by 1975, the mileage on his body was so bad.

  24. Matt McGrain 02:15am, 08/21/2012

    Beast of an article, well done.

  25. mikecasey 11:30pm, 08/20/2012

    Wonderful article, Robert. Jerry Quarry was my favourite when I was a young man. I guess I will always remember him and Mike as they look in that lovely carefree picture above

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