NEW YORK -- Former heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey, one of America's most popular sports figures who dominated the boxing world during the Roaring 20s, died Tuesday at his Manhattan apartment. He was 87.
Dempsey, who held the heavyweight title from 1919-1926, was found by his wife, Deanna, about 4 p.m. EDT in the bedroom of their apartment.
The 'Manassa Mauler' had been in failing health for the past two years and was hospitalized April 11, 1982 to have a heart pacemaker implanted.
Police said the medical examiner ruled Dempsey died of natural causes. Funeral arrangements were incomplete.
The former champ lived quietly with his wife, and was often seen walking with a cane around his East Side neighborhood and inside his apartment building.
'He was always stopped on the street and was extremely recognizable with his cane,' said neighbor Rubin Adler.
'One day someone was helping him down the stairs and I waited. The other person said I'd better go on ahead, but I said 'No, I think I'd still better duck when he's around.' He smiled at that,' Adler said.
Another neighbor said Dempsey and his wife were 'quite active,' and tenants on his floor often caught glimpses of him 'doing his exercises in the hall with his therapist.'
'He was always very polite and friendly, though he was more taciturn than in years past,' said the neighbor.
Dempsey was one of the more popular champions and, after Babe Ruth, perhaps one of the greatest world-wide sports figure before World War II.
'Jack Dempsey was perhaps the man who sculpted the golden age of sports,' said Bert Sugar, editor and publisher of Ring Magazine. 'Before Babe Ruth hit his height, before there even was a Bobby Jones. Sixty years later, he was still the greatest, regardless of what Muhammad Ali says.'
Dempsey was born in Manassa, Colo., on June 24, 1895, the son of a Mormon school teacher. Named William Harrison Dempsey, he adopted the nickname of another boxer, his idol Jack Dempsey, when he decided to fight.
Dempsey beat Jess Willard to become the champion in Toledo, Ohio, on July 4, 1919, and went on to earn such titles as the 'Manassa Mauler,' the 'Killer' and the 'Jungle Beast.'
Dempsey fought boxing's first million-dollar gate against Georges Carpentier, a French fighter, in a fight billed as the 'Battle of the Century' at Boyle's Thirty Acres in Jersey City, N.J. He lost the crown in an equally famed bout with Gene Tunney in Philadelphia.
The Tunney-Dempsey rematch at Soldier Field in Chicago was another million-dollar gate known as the 'Long Count Fight,' and generated one of sports most hotly debated issues.
Dempsey knocked Tunney down in the seventh round of that fight but did not go to the neutral corner as required, causing speculation on whether Tunney could have gotten up by the nine count had Dempsey gone to the corner immediately.
Except for a brief bit of ballyhoo about a comeback, Dempsey confined himself to promoting and officiating at fights and running his Broadway restaurant which closed several years ago.
Dempsey's last public appearances came in 1980. He was at the Boxing Writers Association dinner and the National Cartoonist's Society dinner in April at the Plaza Hotel in New York.