Tags: rafer johnson | olympics | decathlon | robert f kennedy | assassination

Olympian Who Helped Disarm Robert F. Kennedy's Assassin Dies at 86

johnson in a black tracksuit with red stripes
Rafer Johnson (Rachel Murray/Getty Images)

By    |   Thursday, 03 December 2020 01:06 PM

Olympic gold medalist Rafer Johnson has died at age 86. The 1960 Olympic decathlon winner passed away Tuesday at his home in California, the University of California, Los Angeles and USA Track & Field confirmed. Johnson was surrounded by his family at the time of his death, the school that he attended said in a statement.

Johnson was present the day Robert F. Kennedy was shot multiple times by Sirhan Sirhan on June 5, 1968, and was able to wrestle the gun from the shooter's hand. Kennedy died the following day.

"We are extremely saddened to lose one of the greatest humans one could hope to know," said UCLA's Director of Track and Field/Cross Country Avery Anderson. "Most people know him to be an all-time UCLA and Olympic great as an athlete, but that only scratches the surface of what he gave the world. Rafer set the standard of what an icon should be - a humanitarian, a leader, a great friend and mentor, and most importantly a great patriarch to the most wonderful family I've ever known."

Johnson attended UCLA on both academic and athletic scholarships and immediately made an impact upon arriving in Westwood, Los Angeles, in 1954. He captained UCLA's freshman track and field team and went on to win a gold medal in the decathlon at the Pan American Games. In 1956, he led UCLA to its first-ever NCAA Track and Field Championship and also won the Pacific Coast Conference low hurdles title. That same year he qualified to compete in the 1956 Olympics in both the decathlon and long jump but injury sidelined him. Four years later he came back stronger than ever and clinched the win.

After his athletic career, which saw him become a member of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame and the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, Johnson pursued a career in acting and secured several film and TV roles. He also worked as a sports broadcaster for KNBC-TV Los Angeles and played a key role in Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign, according to Deadline.

Johnson was selected to light the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. The Coliseum torch has now been re-lit to honor his memory.

Johnson is survived by his wife, Betsy, his daughter, Jenny Johnson-Jordan, his son, Josh Johnson, and four grandchildren.

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Olympic gold medalist Rafer Johnson has died at age 86. The 1960 Olympic decathlon winner passed away Tuesday at his home in California, the University of California, Los Angeles and USA Track & Field confirmed. Johnson was surrounded by his family at the time of his death...
rafer johnson, olympics, decathlon, robert f kennedy, assassination
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2020-06-03
Thursday, 03 December 2020 01:06 PM
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