Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the former boxer who spent years wrongfully incarcerated for murder, has died at age 76. His life inspired a Bob Dylan protest song and the film Hurricane, starring Denzel Washington.
Carter, the former boxing champion whose conviction for a triple murder was overturned after he served nearly 20 years in prison, has died of prostate cancer. He died on Sunday at his home in Toronto, Canada, his friend and former co-defendant John Artis, confirmed.
Born on May 6, 1937, into a family of seven children, Carter struggled with a hereditary speech impediment and was sent to a juvenile reform center at 12 after an assault. He escaped and joined the Army in 1954 and learned to box while in West Germany.
Although never a world champion, Carter went 27-12-1 with 19 knockouts, memorably stopping two-division champ Emile Griffith in the first round in 1963. He also fought for a middleweight title in 1964, losing a unanimous decision to Joey Giardello.
Carter and Artis had been driving around Carter’s hometown on the night that three white people were shot by two black men at the Lafayette Bar and Grill. They were convicted by an all-white jury largely on the testimony of two thieves who later recanted their stories.Carter was granted a new trial and briefly freed in 1976, but he was sent back for nine more years after being convicted in a second trial.
“I wouldn’t give up,” Carter said in an interview in 2011 on PBS. “No matter that they sentenced me to three life terms in prison. I wouldn’t give up. Just because a jury of 12 misinformed people … found me guilty did not make me guilty. And because I was not guilty, I refused to act like a guilty person.”
Dylan, a boxing aficionado, became aware of Carter’s plight after reading the fighter’s autobiography. He met Carter and co-wrote “Hurricane,” which he performed on his Rolling Thunder Revue tour in 1975. The song concludes: “That’s the story of the Hurricane/But it won’t be over till they clear his name/And give him back the time he’s done/Put him in a prison cell but one time he could-a been/The champion of the world.”
Muhammad Ali and Coretta Scott King spoke out on Carter’s behalf. Other celebrities also worked toward his release, joined by a network of friends and volunteers.
Carter eventually won his freedom from U.S. District Judge H. Lee Sarokin, who wrote that the boxer’s prosecution had been “predicated upon an appeal to racism rather than reason, and concealment rather than disclosure.”
Director Norman Jewison made Carter’s story into a well-reviewed biographical film, with Washington working closely alongside Carter to capture the boxer’s transformation and redemption. Washington won a Golden Globe for the role.
“This man right here is love,” Washington said while onstage with Carter at the Golden Globes ceremony in early 2000. “He’s all love. He lost about 7,300 days of his life, and he’s love. He’s all love.”
Carter was married twice. He and his first wife Mae Thelma had a son and a daughter during their marriage, which ended in divorce.
Born 6 May 1937; Died 20 April 2014