Professional Boxer. Heavyweight Champion of the World from 1937 to 1949. He began his pro career in 1934, and by 1936 he had beaten such great heavyweights as Stanley Poreda, Natie Brown, and Rosco Toles. He was seemingly invincible, until his meeting with Max Schmeling on June 19, 1936. Schmeling was the underdog but, to the surprise of all, gave Joe Louis a stinging defeat by knocking him out in the 12th round. In 1937, he faced World Heavyweight Champion James J. Braddock in Chicago. In an eight round match, he captured the Heavyweight Championship of the World by knocking Braddock out. After this victory, Joe Louis stated, “I don’t want nobody to call me champ until I beat Schmeling.” On June 22, 1938, he again took on the man who had beaten him, Max Schmeling. With Adolph Hitler marching across Europe the fight became a huge international event. This time around, Joe Louis knocked Schmeling out in the first round and captured the admiration of countless Americans. As Champion, he took such boxers as Lou Nova, Tony Galento, Gus Dorazio, Buddy Baer, and Johnny Paycheck,. In an epic battle with Billy Conn at the Polo Grounds in 1941, he was behind on the scorecards and came back to knock out Conn in the late rounds. During World War II he served in the United States Army, then returned to the ring to defend his title several more times before retiring in 1949, still the undefeated Champion and with an astonishing 25 title defences. He tried several comebacks to the ring but they were unfortunately unsuccesful and he retired for good in 1951. He still holds the distinction of having successfully defended his title more times than any other heavyweight in history. His life and success story serve as proof that black and white Americans can coexist. When he died in 1981, Joe Louis was eulogized, and continues to be known, as one of the greatest prizefighters of all time.
Drugs took a toll on Louis in his later years. In 1969, he was hospitalized after collapsing on a New York City street. While the incident was at first credited to “physical breakdown,” underlying problems would soon surface. In 1970, he spent five months at the Colorado Psychiatric Hospital and the Veterans Administration Hospital in Denver, hospitalized by his wife, Martha, and his son, Joe Louis Barrow Jr., for paranoia. In a 1971 book, Brown Bomber, by Barney Nagler, Louis disclosed the truth about these incidents, stating that his collapse in 1969 had been caused by cocaine, and that his subsequent hospitalization had been prompted by his fear of a plot to destroy him. Strokes and heart ailments caused Louis’s condition to deteriorate further later in the decade. He had surgery to correct an aortic aneurysm in 1977 and thereafter used an Amigo POV/scooter for a mobility aid.
Louis died of cardiac arrest in Desert Springs Hospital near Las Vegas on April 12, 1981, just hours after his last public appearance viewing the Larry Holmes–Trevor Berbick Heavyweight Championship. Ronald Reagan waived the eligibility rules for burial at Arlington National Cemetery and Louis was buried there with full military honors on April 21, 1981. His funeral was paid for in part by former competitor and friend, Max Schmeling, who also acted as a pallbearer.
- May, 13, 1914
- Lafayette, Alabama
- April, 12, 1981
- Paradise, Nevada
- Arlington National Cemetery
- Arlington, Virginia