Old-school sports journalist who wrote acclaimed book on boxing


GEORGE KIMBALL:GEORGE KIMBALL, who has died aged 67, was an American sports writer and Irish Timescolumnist, who wrote a much-acclaimed book on boxing, hailed by some as the best boxing book written to date.

A hard-drinking, heavy-smoking newspaperman of the old-school variety, he chain-smoked to the end, devouring filterless Lucky Strike cigarettes even after being diagnosed with terminal oesophageal cancer.

Kimball cut an extraordinary figure. A large, rotund man, he had a glass eye, a mob of unkempt hair and an out-of-control beard. When diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2005 and given six months to live, he reacted by treating the disease with contempt and carrying on as he always had.

At a recent dinner party, one of the guests, who could see how frail he had become, said, “What are you doing smoking?” Kimball grinned at the man. “What,” he retorted, “you’re afraid I might be getting cancer?”

His friend and fellow sports journalist Mike Lupica, whose career Kimball helped at its outset, wrote in the New York Daily Newsthat Kimball “went out on his own terms”.

“He was so much more than just a sports columnist,” wrote Lupica. “He was an author and poet and a friend of Hunter Thompson and he once ran for sheriff in Kansas. And trust me on something, from all the nights with him that take me all the way back to college and the Boston Phoenixand the real beginning of this life for me: If you were in a bar with big George, the man with the glass eye, and had to walk away, you did not want to ask him to keep an eye on your drink for you.”

George Edward Kimball was born in 1943, in Grass Valley, California, the first of seven children. His father was a career US army officer, who reached the rank of colonel. As a result of his father’s career, Kimball grew up in several parts of the United States and also the wider world, including Germany and Taiwan.

After graduating from high school in San Antonio, Texas, Kimball attended the University of Kansas under the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps college-based officer commissioning programme, before being kicked out of the college. Later he went to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

He became increasingly involved in the counterculture of the late 1960s, went to jail for protesting against the Vietnam War and other minor offences, took jobs and lost them.

When he ran for sheriff of Douglas County, Kansas, and failed to impress the electorate, he wrote about his experience in the countercultural journal the Realist.

His opponent was Rex Johnson, an old-fashioned Republican sheriff with a withered arm who had previously arrested Kimball. Running as the Democratic nominee, Kimball used the slogan “Douglas County Needs a Two-Fisted Sheriff”.

He moved to New York in the 1960s and worked for a literary agency. He wrote poetry and pornographic fiction while also filing non-fiction assignments for various magazines, including the Village Voice, Rolling Stone, Playboy.

His connection with Boston began when he joined the Boston Phoenix, a four-page alternative weekly publication specialising in the arts and entertainment, working as a columnist as boxing reporter.

Later he joined the Boston Heraldnewspaper where he was a sports columnist for 25 years. He covered more than 400 world title fights but also wrote about the Americas’ Cup yacht races, Super Bowl football and basketball.

In 1997, he began writing a weekly column for The Irish Times.

In 1985, he received the Nat Fleischer award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism from the Boxing Writers Association of America. He wrote two outstanding boxing books, Four Kings: Leonard, Hagler, Duran, Hearns and the Last Great Era of Boxing(Mainstream Publishing, 2008) and Manly Art: They can run - but they can’t hide(McBooks Press, 2011), a collection of his columns, many of them from The Irish Times.

He also wrote Only Skin Deep(Olympia/Ophelia, 1968), Sunday Fools: Stomped Tromped, Kicked, Chewed in the NFL, (with Tom Beer; Houghton Mifflin, 1974), and Chairman of the Boards(with Eamonn Coghlan, Red Rock Press, Dublin, 2008).

Four Kingshas been described as one of the best books ever written on boxing. Writing after Kimball’s death, fellow sports journalist Michael Norby of SecondsOut.com wrote in The New York Irish Emigrantthat it was “an enthralling look back at the 1980s rivalry between four of boxing’s greats”.

New York journalist Pete Hamill said of Kimball: “He was the kind of newspaperman who works until he can’t work anymore, the kind who gets carried out on his shield”.

Irish Timessports journalist Keith Duggan wrote on his passing that Kimball “moved effortlessly between sport, music, literature and politics, and it is anyone’s guess as to which mattered most to him”.

George Kimball was married four times, with the last ceremony conducted by former heavyweight champion George Foreman.

He is survived by his wife, Marge Marash, his children, Darcy and Teddy, his mother, brothers and sisters.

George Kimball: Born December 20th, 1943; died July 6th, 2011