King, Don 1931–
Don King 1931–
Even if he sported a conventional hair style, Don King might still be one of the most recognizable people in sports today. During the last 20 years, no individual has wielded more power in the big-money sport of boxing. At the same time, probably no individual in all of sports has been more controversial. Some observers call him an African American role model, while others call him a ruthless scoundrel. Which-ever view one takes of King, the story of his transformation from a Cleveland street thug to the most prominent promoter in the history of boxing is nothing short of remarkable. Through a combination of business wizardry and personal flair, King has managed over a relatively short period of time to trade in his prisoners’ coverall for a tuxedo, and he now hobnobs with presidents and royalty.
Don King was born in Cleveland in 1931. When he was ten years old, his father Clarence King, a steelworker, was killed in an explosion at the steel mill, leaving Don and his six siblings in the care of their mother, Hattie King. Hattie used the insurance money from her husband’s death to relocate the family from the ghetto to a nearby middle-class neighborhood. To support the family, Hattie baked pies and roasted peanuts, which her sons would sell throughout the neighborhood. As a promotional gimmick, Don and his brothers would insert a slip of paper with a lucky number on it into each bag of peanuts. Those bags became popular among local gamblers, thereby making the King boys acquainted with some of the city’s prominent numbers racketeers.
As a high school student, King became involved in Golden Gloves boxing. It soon became clear that he was more talented as a hustler than as a fighter, and after being knocked cold in one of his first bouts, he decided to forget about boxing as a career. Meanwhile, King had gone to work as a numbers runner for one Cleveland’s illegal lottery operators. He was accepted to Kent State University after graduating from high school, and he worked for the numbers boss all summer to raise money for tuition. Before he had saved enough for college, however, King misplaced a winning betting slip and had to pay the money out of his own pocket. Instead of going off to college, King stayed in Cleveland and began a numbers business on his own. Although he spent a year
At a Glance …
Born August 20, 1931, in Cleveland, Ohio; son of Clarence (a steelworker) and Hattie (a baker) King; married Henrietta King; children: Eric, Carl, Deborah; Education : attended Case Western Reserve University for one year.
Ran illegal gambling operation, c. 1950-1966; promoted Ali-Foreman heavyweight title fight, 1974; Don King Productions, founder, chairman, and CEO, 1974-; promoted Jacksons’ “Victory” tour, 1984; has promoted hundreds of championship fights throughout the world.
Awards: Man of the Year, National Black Hall of Fame, 1975; Urban Justice Award, Antioch School of Law, 1976; Heritage Award, Edwin Gould Society for Children, 1976; Man of the Year, NAACP; World Boxing Council Promoter of the Decade, 1974-1984; National Black Caucus Awardee of the Year, 1981; World Boxing Council Humanitarian Award, 1984; Black Entertainment and Sports Lawyers Association Merit Award, 1986; Freedom Award, Indiana Black Expo, 1986; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award, Jamaica American Society and U.S. Information Service, 1987.
Member: Operation Push; Martin Luther King Center for Social Change; Trans-Africa; The Anti-Apartheid Association; board member, President’s Council on Physical Fitness.
Addresses: Office —Don King Productons, 871 W. Oakland Park Blvd., Oakland Park, FL 33311.
taking classes at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, he had more or less decided that college was an unnecessary sidetrack. By the time he was 20, King was a successful, yet illicit, businessman, who was married to a woman named Luvenia Mitchell.
King spent the next decade developing his illegal gambling operation. By the time he was 30, he was running one of Cleveland’s biggest numbers games. He was making serious money, and he became a flamboyant figure in the town possessing flashy clothes and flashy cars. He was also making enemies. In 1954 King killed a man named Hillary Brown, who was allegedly trying to rob one of his numbers stations. King successfully claimed self-defense in the killing. A few years later, the front of King’s house was blown up by a gangster named Alex “Shondor” Birns, to whom King had refused to pay protection money. Shortly before King was to testify against Birns on extortion charges, King was shot in the back of the head with a twelve-gauge shotgun. Amazingly, he was not seriously injured in the attack.
Meanwhile, King’s business continued to flourish. In the late 1950s he bought into a popular Cleveland supper club. It was there that he met a young Olympic boxing champion named Cassius Clay in 1960. King and Clay became friends, and King began following Clay all over the country to attend his fights. By this time, King’s first marriage had fallen apart, and he was now married to Henrietta King, the ex-wife of one of his business associates. Aside from occasional trouble with the Internal Revenue Service, King was riding high through the first half of the 1960s.
King’s life took a dramatic turn in 1966. That year, he got into an argument with an employee, Sam Garrett, over a sum of money King felt Garrett owed him. Although accounts of the event vary, the fight became physical, and somehow in the course of the scuffle Garrett’s head hit the pavement. He eventually died from the injuries. Some witnesses indicated that King had beaten the smaller, sickly Garrett mercilessly, while King claimed that Garrett had attacked him and he was merely defending himself. King was convicted of manslaughter and sent to the Marion Correctional Institution in Ohio.
King used his time in prison to give himself the education that he had earlier chosen to bypass. For four years he immersed himself in classic literature and philosophy. When he was released on parole in 1971, King was, as he told a TV Guide interviewer in 1980, “armed and dangerous. Armed with wisdom and knowledge.” King was eventually granted a full pardon by Ohio Governor James Rhodes in 1983.
Determined to leave the numbers game behind him, King began to look for legitimate business opportunities after his release from prison. Around this time he adopted his trademark hair style, a gravity-defying affair that he has repeatedly maintained happened by itself as a “sign from God.” It did not take King long to settle on boxing as his new racket. His initial stint as a boxing promoter was innocent enough. In 1972 he organized a benefit to help keep Cleveland’s only black hospital, Forest City Hospital, from shutting down. For the benefit’s main attraction, he was able to lure Muhammad Ali (the former Cassius Clay) into fighting a ten-round exhibition against four different opponents. The event raised over $80,000 for the hospital. It also convinced King that there was money to be made as a boxing promoter and manager.
King’s big breakthrough as a promoter came in 1974, when he was one of the main architects, along with closed circuit television company Video Techniques, of the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” heavyweight title fight between Ali and champion George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire. With only a very limited background in boxing promotion, King used his natural salesmanship to talk the government of Zaire into putting up more than $10 million in financial backing for the event. The fight was a huge financial success, and it vaulted King to the top of the heap among boxing promoters. Since that time, he has had a hand in the pot of major boxing matches.
King following up the “Rumble in the Jungle” with the 1975 “Thrilla in Manila” between Ali and Joe Frazier, considered by many to be one of the greatest heavyweight bouts of all time. King promoted several more of Ali’s championship fights, cementing his position as the sports leading matchmaker. Although Ali eventually defected to the camp of King’s archrival Bob Arum of Top Rank, another closed-circuit firm, many more topranked boxers were waiting in line to sign up with King. Larry Holmes, who dominated the heavyweight division in the post-Ali years, was one of them. Several boxers expressed a preference for doing business with a fellow African American, and King, the only top-line black promoter in the business, was more than happy to exploit that preference.
Even as a “legitimate” business person, King was unable to avoid scandal and controversy. In 1977 a series of fights set up by King with the ABC television network was canceled when the FBI turned up evidence that King had doctored some of the fighters’ records. In the early 1980s he again received the FBI’s attention as part of a large-scale investigation of the entire boxing industry. Although all sorts of shady practices were uncovered, no charges against King came out of that investigation. In 1984 King and his secretary Constance Harper were indicted on tax evasion charges. Amazingly, the jury acquitted King and convicted Harper. King thanked members of the jury by supplying them with first-class plane tickets and ring-side seats for heavyweight fights. The same year, King tried his hand at a different branch of the entertainment industry when he promoted the Jacksons’ (Michael and brothers) Victory Tour. As with his boxing events, the tour brought in mind-boggling sums of money.
Through the rest of the 1980s, King continued to dominate his end of boxing, with the only real competition coming from Arum. Among the heavyweight champions with whom he had exclusive promotional contracts during this period were Michael Dokes, Mike Weaver, Tim Witherspoon, Bonecrusher Smith, and Trevor Berbick. In many top matches, both combatants had business relationships with King. Some fighters claimed that they were coerced into signing with King, and many of those deals included managerial contracts with King’s son Carl that gave him as much as half of the purse for each fight. In the late 1980s, Mike Tyson ushered in a new era of heavyweight dominance and money-making for King.
The role that race has played in King’s success has been, like almost everything else in his life, controversial. At times he waxes utterly patriotic about his success. Only in America, the land of equal opportunity for all, could a poor kid from the ghetto rise to such heights of fame and fortune. Just as often, however, King has loudly denounced the racism that permeates every facet of life in the United States. And while he has been active in and frequently recognized by such organizations as the NAACP, the United Negro College Fund, and Operation Push, many of the boxers he has promoted feel that he uses his blackness as just another tool of exploitation. King was quoted in Vibe in September of 1996 as saying “I never got a fighter because I’ m black. Every fighter, including Mike Tyson, came to me after they’ ve been screwed by the other promoters.”
In the early 1990s, King suffered a handful of setbacks. More and more boxers went public with claims that King had cheated them. Larry Holmes was widely quoted as saying that King “looks black, lives white, and thinks green.” Witherspoon sued King and came away with a sizable settlement. King’s biggest meal ticket, Tyson, lost the championship to the virtually unknown James “Buster” Douglas, and then went to prison for rape. King’s ongoing business relationship with cable-TV giant HBO went sour. In 1992 King’s former accountant came forward with evidence of an insurance scam, for which King was subsequently indicted. A scathing biography, Only in America: The Life and Crimes of Don King, was published in 1995. In it, King is portrayed as a ruthless charlatan, albeit a brilliant one, whose exploits in the world of boxing have been no more legitimate than those of his earlier life in the Cleveland underworld.
As usual, however, King managed to emerge from it all relatively unscathed. Tyson was released from prison and began earning big money once again for both himself and King. Spurned by HBO, King turned to rival Showtime, with whom he formed a joint venture called KingVision to air Tyson’s fights on pay-per-view. His trial for wire fraud in connection with the alleged insurance scam was declared a mistrial in 1995, and although prosecutors planned to retry the case, King considered himself vindicated.
The line between a successful businessperson and a successful scam artist is often a blurry one. Regardless of which side of that line Don King eventually falls on in the eyes of the public when his career is over, there is no question that he will have contributed something of value to boxing in at least two ways. More people certainly receive far more money from a boxing match than was ever the case before his arrival on the scene. And his charisma has made the business end of the sport almost as interesting to observe as the fights themselves. A lot of people think the boxing world would be better off without King around. But while it’s possible that boxing would be a cleaner sport without him, there’s no doubt that it would be a less colorful one.
Newfield, Jack, Only in America: The Life and Crimes of Don King, William Morrow, 1995.
Esquire, March 1991, pp. 52-54.
Nation, August 28, 1995, pp. 189-190.
New York, March 18, 1991, pp. 40-46; October 30, 1995, pp. 42-43.
Time, November 27, 1995, p. 83.
Vibe, September 1996, pp. 148-152.
—Robert R. Jacobson
American boxing promoter
With his trademark "gravity-defying" hair, the image of Don King has hovered over professional boxing since he helped put together the "Rumble in the Jungle" in 1974, in which Muhammad Ali regained his championship title from George Foreman . All the elements that have marked King's career came together in his first big match: brilliant showmanship, the ability to massage outsized egos, and shady financing that left a number of people—though not Don King—unpaid and unsure where the money went. Since then, King's legend has grown to the point where his own fame, with a few exceptions, eclipses the various heavyweight champions and challengers he's promoted.
Donald King was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on August 20, 1931, in a Depression-era ghetto. On December 7, 1941, King's father was killed in an explosion at the steel factory where he worked. With the small insurance settlement, Don King's mother Hattie relocated the family to a middle-class neighborhood. When the money ran out, Hattie began to bake pies, which her sons sold along with bags of roasted peanuts. As a sales gimmick, Don and his brothers began to slip a "lucky number" into each bag, a habit that soon made them very popular with the local gamblers and numbers runners.
As a high school student, he began to take an interest in boxing, entering Golden Gloves tournaments as "The Kid." After being knocked cold in a few early bouts, The Kid decided that boxing was not the way to go, at least not inside the ring. Instead, he began to focus on the numbers rackets that he had encountered as a boy selling peanuts. After being accepted to Kent State University, he decided to spend his summer after high school working for a numbers runner, to raise the tuition money. Unfortunately, after hustling all summer, he lost a winning betting slip and had to make up for it out of his own pocket, putting his college plans on hold. While he did eventually take a few classes at Case Western University, he decided that college was an unnecessary diversion.
Instead he set himself up in the numbers business, and by the time he turned 20, he was a well-established and successful numbers runner. He soon began to show the panache that would mark his career, buying fancy clothes and driving around town in shiny new cars. At the same time he began to reveal the talents that would make him more than a flash in the pan. He used an insider's tips to rig a popular numbers game based on stock market results, reducing his risk to 200:1 odds while collecting at 500:1 odds. This complex system worked well enough to make Don King the most successful "numbers banker" in Cleveland by the time he was 30. And King had also emerged as a man to be feared. In December of 1954, he shot to death a man named Hillary Brown who was trying to rob one of King's gambling houses. The killing was ruled a "justifiable homicide."
A Prison Education
King's next brush with the law would be much more serious, and would very nearly cost him everything. On April 20, 1966, Don King walked into the Manhattan Tap Room and spotted a man by the name of Sam Garrett—a former employee in King's racket who owed him $600 on a bet. Sickly, small, and drug-addicted, Garrett was no match for King. But King was in no mood for forgiveness. Their argument very quickly turned into a brawl, and then a beating in the street outside the bar, a beating that ultimately left Garrett dead from his injuries. King claimed self-defense, and witness accounts vary, but for the first officer on the scene, the beating was a brutal, almost demonic assault. In an interview with sportswriter Jack Newfield, Officer Bob Tonne said he saw "a man's head bouncing off the asphalt pavement like a rubber ball. Then he saw another man standing over him with a gun in his right hand, applying another kick to the head." Even after he was subdued and the fight was over, "King got in one last vicious kick that Tonne would never forget."
|1931||Born August 20 in Cleveland, Ohio|
|1950-67||Numbers runner in Cleveland|
|1954||On December 12, shoots and kills Hillary Brown, who is attempting to rob one of King's gambling houses. The shooting is ruled a "justifiable homicide."|
|1967||On April 20, beats Sam Garrett to death. Convicted of second degree murder, but sentenced on a reduced manslaughter charge, to Marion Correctional Institute, in Ohio.|
|1971||Paroled on September 30|
|1972||Brings Muhammad Ali to Cleveland to fight in exhibition match on behalf of a local black hospital|
|1973||Becomes co-manager of Larry Holmes with Don Butler, by 1975 Butler has been eased out (he later sues King)|
|1974||Promotes "Rumble in the Jungle" between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman|
|1975||Promotes "Thrilla in Manilla" between Ali and Joe Frazier, often considered the greatest boxing match ever|
|1977||Investigated by FBI for doctoring fighters' records; no charges filed, but ABC cancels contract with King for several fights|
|Early 1980s||Again investigated by FBI as part of larger probe in boxing; no charges filed|
|1983||Granted full pardon for earlier murder conviction by Governor of Ohio|
|1984||Indicted on insurance fraud charges, with secretary Constance Harper|
|1984||Promotes Michael Jackson's reunion "Victory Tour" with Jackson brothers|
|1984||Indicted on insurance fraudcharges, with secretary Constance Harper|
|1985||Acquitted of insurance fraud (Harper found guilty)|
|1985||Found not guilty of insurance fraud (Harper found guilty)|
|1988||Sued by Larry Holmes for $300,000 (settles for $100,000)|
|1988||Signs Mike Tyson|
|1995||Tried on wire fraud charges stemming from the insurance fraud investigation; case ends in a mistrial|
|1998||Acquitted in second trial for wire fraud|
|1998||Sued by Mike Tyson for $100 million|
|2002||Sues longtime rival Bob Arum for "stealing" heavyweight Julio Cesar Chavez|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1974||Promotes "Rumble in the Jungle" between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman|
|1975||Promotes "Thrilla in Manilla" between Ali and Joe Frazier, often considered the greatest boxing match ever|
|1975||Man of the Year, National Black Hall of Fame|
|1976||Urban Justice Award, Antioch School of Law|
|1976||Heritage Award, Edwin Gould Society for Children|
|1976||Man of the Year, NAACP|
|1980||Citation for Outstanding Support and Service, U.S. Olympic Committee|
|1981||George Herbert Walker Bush Award, President's Inaugural Committee|
|1981||Award of the Year, National Black Caucus|
|1983||Promoter of the Year, North American Boxing Federation|
|1984||Humanitarian Award, World Boxing Council|
|1986||Merit Award, Black Entertainment and Sports Lawyers Association|
|1987||Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award, Jamaica America Society and U.S. Information Service|
|1997||Inducted in Boxing Hall of Fame|
|1998||Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters, Shaw University, Raleigh, NC|
Despite reports of witness intimidation and attempted bribery, King was convicted of second-degree murder. Normally, this would have meant a life sentence with eligibility for parole after eight and a half years. Oddly, the presiding judge—in a highly controversial decision reached in the privacy of his chambers—set aside the execution of the sentence, in effect changing the conviction-to manslaughter, which allowed King to emerge from prison in less than four years.
There is no question that Don King used his years in prison to great advantage. He read widely in literature and philosophy, getting the education he had bypassed before. As he put it himself: "I didn't serve time. I made time serve me." He also managed to purchase from a Cleveland city councilor a 40-acre farm for a mere $1,000, a decidedly small sum for such a property. Interestingly, the farm was occupied by a woman named Hattie Renwick, a widow who eventually married Don King.
On September 30, 1971, Don King emerged from prison considerably wiser and wealthier and with more faithful friends than the typical ex-con. One friend in particular would set him on the path to fame and fortune. Lloyd Price was a very successful singer-songwriter who had been performing benefits and concerts at a tavern owned by Don King since 1959. The two had become fast friends, and the day after King's parole, Price flew to Cleveland to offer his support and advice. It took a little while, but in June of 1972, Don King came up with an idea that would require Lloyd Price's assistance.
A local black hospital had fallen on hard times, and King came up with the idea of holding a charitable event to rescue it. The centerpiece would be a couple of exhibition matches with Price's good friend Muhammad Ali—that is, if Ali could be persuaded to do the event for a man who had never promoted a boxing match in his life. Price made the necessary introductions, and King's unstoppable flow of words did the rest. Ali agreed to participate, and the match was a success, although there is some question as to how much money the hospital ultimately received.
Don King had found his calling—and very soon, the world would know it. The fledgling boxing promoter convinced Ali and his Nation of Islam managers that they were morally obligated to do business with a black promoter. As if to cinch the deal, about this time King claimed to have received a sign from God, when his natural Afro uncurled itself into the shock of hair that the world would soon recognize as his trademark. Over the years, the story would grow more elaborate, to the point where he claimed his hair could not be cut or combed, and electric shocks would fly from it when barbers got too close with shears or scissors.
Rumble in the Jungle
In 1974, King put together a title fight between the champion, George Foreman, and challenger Muhammad Ali. To add a note of black pride, he decided to hold the event in Africa, in Zaire, and coined it the "Rumble in the Jungle." He promised each of the contenders $5 million, twice what any previous fighter had earned, and despite the suspicions of both Ali's managers and George Foreman, the corruption of Zaire's megalomaniac ruler Mobutu, and a five-week delay that threatened to torpedo the whole project, King pulled off a match that was a huge financial success for all concerned. Or nearly all. Lloyd Price, one of numerous singers who had flown in to perform on the night of the big fight, never received payment.
With Ali's title regained, and Don King firmly in his camp, the two began to plan his next big match. The result was the "Thrilla in Manilla," which put Ali up against former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier . Many consider this the greatest title fight in boxing history, adding a note of quality to King's reputation for mounting lucrative spectacles.
King's growing influence soon attracted the attention of the federal government, notably the FBI and IRS. After numerous investigations, the FBI concluded that the chaotic structure of modern boxing meant that King probably was not criminally liable for his shady deals, although it continued to watch him. He has also survived IRS investigations for tax evasion and a 1995 federal charge for insurance fraud, which ended in a hung jury. In fact, the jury convicted King's secretary, Constance Harper, while letting King himself off. A grateful King sprung for first-class plane tickets and ringside seats for the jurors. In addition, King has fended off a number of lawsuits from his own clients, but these have generally been settled out of court. As former heavyweight Larry Holmes, who settled for $100,000 after suing for $300,000, once put it: King "looks black, lives white, and thinks green."
Only in America
The world got a good sample of Don King's audacious tactical imagination and deal-making in February 1978 when he stole not a fighter but the heavyweight championship of the world.
On Februay 15, Leon Spinks upset the aging Muhammad Ali and won the title. Bob Arum promoted this fight and he had a contract giving him options on the fist three defenses by Neon Leon. This was not good for King….
Spinks revered Ali … and he promised Ali a rematch in September. King saw this honorable gesture as an opportunity to play boxing politics.
King called Jose Sulaiman, the president of the World Boxing Council (WBC), one of the comic regulating authorities, based in Mexico City, and convinced him to strip Spinks of his title for the crime of giving Ali an immediate rematch, instead of fighting the Number 1 contender, Ken Norton.
By stripping Spinks without due process or a fair hearing, Sulaiman created a second version of the heavyweight title, a great advantage to King, who had all the other contenders under contract.
Source: Newfield, Jack. Only in America, New York: Knopf, 1993, pp. 139-140.
As Muhammad Ali entered his declining years, especially after losing his title to Larry Holmes, Don King emerged more and more as the face of modern boxing. In fact, for a time in the 1980s, everyone who contended for the heavyweight championship was promoted or managed by Don King. As a Sports Illustrated reporter put it in 1990, "Boxing is run out of King's right-hand drawer." And it wasn't just his business savvy. Heavyweight champions like Michael Dokes, Mike Weaver, and Trevor Berbick did not resonate with the public the way Don King did. Only one recent boxer, Mike Tyson , has eclipsed Don King's fame—or notoriety. When Tyson lost his title and then went to jail on a rape conviction, it seemed to some that King had lost his last big meal ticket.
But Don King has gone ever on. Promotions (including a brief detour into the music industry when he promoted the Jacksons's Victory Tour in the late 1980s), law suits, grand schemes for reviving the sagging fortunes of heavyweight boxing, intense rivalries with other promoters, all continue to fill the busy life of Don King. Even Mike Tyson returned to the fold after his prison term, earning more money for the promoter, although he has since sued King for $100 million. Undoubtedly, many boxers and promoters wish Don King had never entered boxing, but they might consider two of his legacies. First, he dramatically increased the prize money for fighters. Second, and rather more importantly, he brought a charisma and undeniable showmanship to a sport that has always depended on such fireworks to attract the public's interest, and the money that flows from that interest. As King himself once put it: "I never cease to amaze myself. I say this humbly."
Newfield, Jack. Only in America: The Life and Crimes of Don King. New York: Knopf, 1993.
"Don King Trying to Resurrect the Heavies." Washington Times (September 14, 2002): C1.
Hauser, Thomas. "Corner Man." Nation (August 28, 1995): 189.
"The King's Reign." Sports Illustrated (July 14, 1997): 15.
Kirshenbaum, Jerry. "They Said It." Sports Illustrated (October 15, 1984): 26.
Llosa, Luis Fernando. "Inside Boxing." Sports Illustrated (May 21, 2001): 74.
"Main Event: Tyson-King." Sports Illustrated (March 16, 1998): 16.
Raab, Scott. "The Last Boxing Story." Esquire (August 1998): 94.
Reilly, Rick. "Your Hair-raising Gall: Nice Try, Don King, but You Can't Steal Buster Douglas's Title." Sports Illustrated (February 19, 1990): 90.
Steptoe, Sonja. "Tyson's Trials." Sports Illustrated (May 18, 1992): 13.
Wulf, Steve. "A Win by Split Decision: Thanks to a Hung Jury, Boxing Promoter Don King Ducks Under Federal Charges of Insurance Fraud." Time (November 27, 1995): 83.
Ziegel, Vic. "The King of Boxing: How Did Don King Get to Promote Michael Jackson? You'll See." Rolling Stone (January 19, 1984): 13.
Sketch by Robert Winters
August 20, 1931
Boxing promoter Don King was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. As a young adult King was involved in organized crime in Cleveland, running an illegal lottery. King also owned a nightclub, and in 1966 he was convicted of manslaughter for killing a former employee during a street fight. After spending four and a half years in an Ohio penitentiary, he was paroled in 1971 and pardoned by the governor of Ohio in 1983.
Soon after his release King began a career as a boxing promoter. By 1972 he was promoting and unofficially managing local fighters, including Earnie Shavers, who went on to become a challenger for the heavyweight championship. In 1973, immediately after George Foreman knocked out Joe Frazier to become heavyweight champion, King talked himself into Foreman's camp and was hired as the new champion's promoter. With his newly established Don King Productions company, King set up Foreman's first defense of the championship, a successful two-round knockout of Ken Norton in Caracas, Venezuela. In 1974 King arranged a match between Foreman and former champion Muhammad Ali in Kinshasa, Zaire. The "Rumble in the Jungle" ended when Foreman was knocked out in the eighth round, but the fight provided Foreman with five million dollars and established King as the sport's most successful promoter.
Based in New York, King went on to promote fights for a number of the greatest boxers of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, including Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes, Roberto Duran, Mike Tyson, and Julio Cesar Chavez. King copromoted the famous 1975 "Thrilla in Manila" heavyweight championship match between Ali and Frazier. His rise to fame was aided by his flamboyant, often volatile personality and trademark vertical shock of salt-andpepper hair. In 1984 King branched out from boxing by promoting the multimillion-dollar world tour of the Jacksons, the singing group consisting of Michael Jackson and his brothers.
King's business practices have been the focus of significant controversy. In 1984 King and his longtime secretary Constance Harper were indicted by a federal grand jury, but ultimately acquitted, on twenty-three counts of income tax evasion and conspiracy. In the late 1980s he was investigated, but never indicted, by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney General's office for alleged racketeering in the boxing industry.
From the late 1970s through the early 1990s, King held a virtual monopoly on promotions for major boxing matches, and boxing reformers often pointed to his powerful hold over the industry as an example of the sport's corrupt centralization. He was often criticized for acting as de facto manager for many of the boxers whose fights he promoted. (International boxing bylaws prohibit one person serving as a boxer's promoter and manager because of potential conflicts of interest.) In the most famous instance, he came under intense scrutiny for "advising" both Mike Tyson and Buster Douglas, whose 1990 heavyweight championship fight King promoted. King also was accused by many of his former clients of misappropriating funds from boxing matches. In 1993 he proposed his own seven-point plan to reform boxing, including round-by-round displayed scoring, the elimination of draws, and a prohibition on promoters paying the expenses of judges and referees. King's reform plan, while often mocked as hypocritical, was lauded by many in boxing as a constructive proposal.
King was awarded an honorary doctorate from Shaw University in 1998.
Lupica, Mike. "Donfire of the Vanities." Esquire (March 1991): 52.
Newfield, Jack. Only in America: The Life and Crimes of Don King. New York: William Morrow, 1995.
Ziegel, Vic. "The King of Boxing." Rolling Stone (January 19, 1984): 13–14.
thaddeus russell (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005