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Don King

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.

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsBoxingDon King Biography - Early Years, A Prison Education, Chronology, Awards And Accomplishments, The Promoter, Rumble In The Jungle