Bert Sugar: Writer who lit up boxing with his colourful tales and opinions

Owing money, he gave one writer a cheque for $600. Asked if it would bounce, he said, 'like a basketball'

Bert Randolph Sugar was seldom seen in public without a fedora in winter, a panama in summer and something exotic like a Cohiba Esplendido wedged into the corner of his mouth. He arrived on the boxing scene in the early 1970s, after leaving a mediocre career in advertising, when he purchased the struggling magazine Boxing Illustrated. His arrival, contrary to a lot of the rubbish that has been written and spoken since his death, was not universally welcomed by the hardened corps of scribblers that plied their trade in boxing's trenches.

Sugar was determined to join the cabal of men that had not changed much since the days when Damon Runyon was part of their brotherhood. Sugar was never short of a tale that pushed the edges of reality, truth and fantasy; he would have enjoyed reading and hearing this week that he covered the world title fights of Joe Louis, a reign of terror that ended when Sugar had just turned 14 and started when he was one. "I was indeed an early learner," he would have pointed out to anybody intent on ruining his flow.

In 1979 Sugar upgraded and took control of the then legendary Ring magazine. He had also started to produce book after book after book and, combined with his fantastic look and inability to pass a microphone, he was soon regarded as one of boxing's main voices. It is claimed he wrote between 80 and 100 books, mostly on the sport of boxing. Many of the books were collaborations or lists but his output was prodigious and always entertaining.

He was a great peddler of nonsense in books, in articles and most importantly in person. He was never caught short on an opinion and, uniquely for a veteran scribe, he would listen to younger writers, especially if they were located near a polished mahogany bar in easy reach of drink.

His many gigs with pen and microphone meant that Sugar would often appear far from the glitz and confirmed glamour of Las Vegas or New York at a ringside somewhere in obscurity. In 1993 I arrived at a forgotten outpost called Bay St Louis in Mississippi for a one-day heavyweight tournament that was supposed to pay the winner a million dollars. However, the money had shrunk and when I got there, after a three-hour drive from New Orleans, Sugar was acting as a union organiser in the bar trying to negotiate a better deal for the fighters.

"It's crazy," Sugar explained an hour later after his soothing words had saved the show and avoided a mutiny. "The fighters were complaining about having to box for less, but they were ready to fight the men in charge for nothing."

It was at that bar that I reminded Sugar that he had used a lot of my fight reports in one of his magazines andthat I had not received a penny. Hepondered my accusation, blew a perfect smoke wall between us and promised to put it right. He never did and I never asked again, but on a dozen occasions since then he never refused my microphone in his face for a quick interview. His television interviews had to be perfect and only he would give the "go" to film at the exact moment the smoke from his ubiquitous cigar was starting to vanish.

"Bert sent me a cheque for 300 bucks and it bounced," said Mike Marley,a New York writer from the oldest ofold schools. "I saw Bert at the Garden and I said: 'Bert that cheque bounced.' He led me to the bar and said: 'Uncle Mike, take this one for $600.' So, I looked at the new cheque and I said backto him, 'Bert, will it bounce?' He looked at me through the smoke, put hishand on my shoulder and told me: 'Like a basketball!' What could I say? That was Bert."

Sugar was a master raconteur and storyteller and his eloquence, deep knowledge and wisdom will be missed whenever what passes now for the boxing fancy gathers at fights. "Too many overlook his understanding of the fight game," acknowledged Marley. "He was the real deal."

A decade ago Spike Lee hired Sugar and Budd Schulberg to work on a script for a Joe Louis film. "It was going well until Lee had to pour me out of a helicopter. Budd said that Spike was not happy," Sugar remembered from the end of yet another bar: fedora on, cigar fired and drink in hand. A minute later he was asking people to list their favourite boxing films. It would, inevitably, be in one of his books.

Last summer the cigar went out for good when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. "I would rather be a good liver, than have a good liver," he said a thousand times.

Herbert Randolph Sugar, boxing writer and publisher: born Washington DC 7 June 1937; married Suzanne (two cildren); died Mount Kisco, New York 25 March 2012.

Suggested Topics
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn