RIP Smokin’ Joe: The Singin’ Spokesroles of Joe Frazier

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On the 40th anniversary of his historic Madison Square Garden bout with Muhammad Ali, boxing legend Joe Frazier passed away last night at the age of 67 following the biggest fight of his life — with liver cancer.

Smokin’ Joe was not the commercial juggernaut that fellow former boxing champ George Foreman became, but Frazier appeared in his share of ads. Incidentally, he was often singing in those ads.[more]

As with most professional athletes, the years after boxing stardom are many and filled with money-making opportunities. Some of these opportunities seem questionable when looked at in the rearview mirror. Case in point: Muhammad Ali’s 1979 appearance as the pitchman for D-Con roach traps.

The 1970s were of course the lucrative pitchman years for both Ali and Frazier. The decade began in 1971 for Frazier with him beating champion Muhammad Ali in “The Fight of the Century.” In 1973, Frazier then lost to George Foreman on the first HBO Boxing broadcast ever. Howard Cosell yelling “Down goes Frazier!” became one of the most famous ports calls of all time. Then, the historic 1975 Philippines “Thrilla in Manila” (which put HBO on the map) completed the trilogy of Frazier-Ali fights. It’s a fight that has been consistently ranked in the top ten sporting events of all time.

As with many tough guys, the endorsements Frazier got played off his tough guy image.

In 1978, Frazier appeared as the “Famous Heavyweight Singer” in a Miller Lite ad.

In 1980, Frazier even, again in a tuxedo, signing the praises of McDonald’s Quarter Pounder.

While Frazier’s turn as a lounge singer may have amused, the champ in recent years toured as part of a rock-blues band called Smokin’ Joe Frazier and the Knockouts.

Frazier demonstrated a sense of humor when he appeared in a Philippines Airlines ad after his Thrilla in Manila loss to Ali. The dry tagline: “The Best Thing About My Last Trip to The Orient Was the Flight.”

Frazier was also his own brand. But his investments, including everything from Smokin’ Joe’s Corner restaurant and Joe Frazier & Sons Limousine Service to million dollar land deals left the fighter penniless and ripped off.

His lasting legacy, beyond his boxing fame, is Joe Frazier’s Gym. The gym, sold a few years ago, is where Philadelphians gathered after news of his death to mourn and remember a true champ.

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