He was the original Golden Boy of boxing, hailed by presidents for his clean-cut, iconic image and worshipped by his millions of fans. But now Oscar De La Hoya has confessed that he is an alcoholic and drug addict who dressed in drag and cheated regularly on his wife, mother of two of his five children. The fight game is still reeling from the shock.
After spending the last three months in rehab in a Californian clinic, the Mexican-American idol stepped back into the spotlight this weekend as the promoter of last night's world-title bout in Las Vegas between his former opponent Floyd Mayweather Jnr and Victor Ortiz, speaking openly of his other fight outside the ring that drove him to the brink of suicide.
What makes his confessional so astounding is that here was no archetypal washed-up stumblebum, with which boxing is sadly familiar, but a handsome, articulate multi-millionaire boxer-businessman who converted Olympic gold in Barcelona in 1992 to two fistfuls of world titles in six different weight divisions in a 16-year, 55-fight career. He retired only two years ago.
Muhammad Ali apart, the 38-year-old De La Hoya has been the most revered figure in US boxing during the past half-century. He now heads his own Golden Boy organisation, who have promoted top fighters including the Britons Ricky Hatton, David Haye and Amir Khan.
Little could Hatton have known that when he was battling the booze himself, so was his promoter. De La Hoya was last here in April when Khan fought Paul McCloskey in Manchester. "We never guessed a thing," said Khan. "This has been a complete shock. Oscar presented himself as such a sober figure."
Yet now the tarnished Golden Boy has confessed: "I haven't been truly sober since I was eight,'' recalling how he was encouraged to sip beer at family parties. "A sip sounds harmless, but after about 20 you are drunk. I remember the first time when I passed out. My motherwhacked me pretty good."
Before he entered the Betty Ford clinic in Malibu, De La Hoya had fought the influence of alcohol throughout his career. "It was a monster so big I cannot describe it. I'm surprised it hasn't killed me," he said, adding: "There were drugs. My drug of choice was cocaine. The last two years I depended more on the alcohol than the cocaine. It took me to a place where I felt safe.''
He also admitted to cross-dressing. When photos of him in fishnets appeared in a magazine four years ago he protested they were fake. Now he has revealed: "Yes, it was me. I am tired now of lying, of lying to the public and of lying to myself.''
Other pictures showed one of the most macho men in the United States in bras, short skirts and women's underwear. "I was under the influence of alcohol and drugs. I got involved in some very bad things."
Apart from the drugs and booze there were the women. "We are not talking a Tiger Woods here, but I was unfaithful. I've sought forgiveness. I don't want to say we're fine, but Millie [his second wife of 10 years] is a very good person and it hurts me a lot. Those nights when I was drunk and on my own, I asked myself: 'Is it really worth continuing to live?' I contemplated suicide. I'm incapable of doing something like that, but I did think about it.
"At times I would even drink a tequila before a fight. In 2009 I overdosed on cocaine and alcohol and wound up hospitalised. I knew then I was going to end up dead or in jail."
In May he finally checked himself into rehab. "Now, I honestly feel as though I was born again. I feel better than ever. Addiction is the hardest battle of my life. This is sort of like training for a fight that never comes."Reuse content