Former world welterweight and middleweight boxing champion Emile Griffith is dead at the age of 75.
Griffith died Tuesday at an extended-care facility in Hempstead, N.Y., after being bedridden and limited to a feeding tube for the last two years, the Los Angeles Times reported
"He was a tremendous boxer and person," Griffith's friend and biographer, Ron Ross told ESPN
. "It is almost a blessing that he passed away because he has been in a vegetative state the last couple years."
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Ross published a biography about the fighter in 2008 titled "Nine… Ten… and Out! The Two Worlds of Emile Griffith."
"To know him was a privilege," Ross added. "He transcended being a boxer, or being gay or straight. He lived life with the fullest joy. He passed that on to everyone he knew and not many have that as a legacy."
Having fought in 23 main events at Madison Square Garden with a career 85 wins, 24 losses and two draws, Griffith was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
Aside from his impressive record and fast punching ability, the former champ was perhaps most known for his apparent life-long struggle with his sexuality – having long been considered a closet homosexual, as well as a 1962 win over then-champion, Cuba's Benny "Kid" Paret, who died ten days after the bout.
In the tragic March 1962 championship bout at Madison Square Garden, Griffith delivered a series of menacing blows to the unresponsive Paret, who was reportedly already unconscious at the time despite the fact that he was still standing, his body being supported by the ring's ropes.
The one-sided exchange was eventually broken up by referee Ruby Goldstein, who stopped the fight. Goldstein would never referee again after the tragic fight.
Prior to the fight, Paret, who had fought Griffith on two previous occasions having lost the first and won the second bout, insulted Griffith by referring to him using a gay slur, which was described as "gutter Spanish for homosexual" by Sports Illustrated
Griffith had described himself at various times as straight, gay and bisexual, ESPN notes.
Following Paret's death, Griffith received hate mail for years from fans of the deceased Cuban boxer, accusing him of purposely killing Paret in the ring over the insult.
Paret's wife apparently still blamed Griffith for her husband's death and refused to speak with him for the rest of her life. She died in 2004.
Ross told the Los Angeles Times that Griffith had told him that he "'never intended to harm Benny Paret,' adding, 'there was never hatred, but I was very angry.'"
Following the fight, Griffith told reporters, "When I saw Paret hurt, I wanted him to be on the ground before the fight was stopped. I wanted to keep punching. I was still eager to put him down," the Los Angeles Times reported.
Having married a woman in 1971, Ross told the Los Angeles Times that despite preferring physical relations with women, the boxer "felt more comfortable with men, and could confide in them."
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Griffith suffered from dementia since 1992 when he was beaten with bats and chains by five men outside a New York gay bar, according to Ross.
Griffith is survived by his son, Luis, and brothers Franklin, Tony and Guillermo, and sisters Eleanor, Karen, Joyce and Gloria.
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