Jacksonville's Ken "Jawbreaker" Norton Dies At 70

Sep 19, 2013

Ken Norton

Former heavyweight champion and Jacksonville native Ken Norton has died at the age of 70 following a series of strokes.

A friend of the Norton family tells the Associated Press the ex-boxer from central Illinois passed away Wednesday in a care facility near Las Vegas. 

Here's more from the State Journal-Register, which tapped into its archive as it remembered the boxer:

Long before Ken Norton became one of the top heavyweight boxers of his era, beating Muhammad Ali once and later losing to Ali in a controversial decision at Yankee Stadium, Norton’s athletic prowess led to a rule informally named for him.

Norton, who died Wednesday at age 70, excelled in multiple sports at Jacksonville High School. According to a 2002 State Journal-Register story, Norton’s track coach, Al Rosenberger, entered Norton in eight events in a dual meet against Decatur Eisenhower.

Norton, a 1961 Jacksonville graduate, won seven of the eight. It led to the Illinois High School Association limiting athletes to four events in a meet. It’s still known as the Norton Rule.

“I’ll always remember what a great natural athlete he was,” said Buford Green, a longtime sports writer and editor for the Jacksonville Journal-Courier and later for The State Journal-Register.

“He admitted he never lifted a weight. He was just a natural athlete. He was talented in a lot of fields. And he was proud of Jacksonville.”

Norton died Wednesday at a Las Vegas-area care facility. His son, former NFL player and current Seattle Seahawks assistant coach Ken Norton Jr., confirmed the death to The Associated Press before handing the phone to his wife, too distraught to talk.

Norton had been in poor health for the last several years after suffering a series of strokes, a friend of the fighter told The AP.

Born on Aug. 9, 1943 in Jacksonville, Norton was the only child of John and Ruth Norton. He also played football and basketball at Jacksonville High and initially went to Northeast Missouri State (now Truman State) to play football. He’d earned all-state football honors in leading Jacksonville to a 9-0 mark in 1960.

But Norton left college after a short time and enlisted in the United States Marines. He took up boxing while he was enlisted, then turned professional in 1967.

Norton broke Ali’s jaw in their first bout, beating him by split decision in 1973 in a non-title fight in San Diego — where Norton lived at the time.  They fought six months later, and Ali won a split decision in Los Angeles.

They met for a third time on Sept. 28, 1976, at Yankee Stadium, where Ali narrowly won to keep his heavyweight title. Green was in attendance that night.

“There was a lot of controversy,” Green said. “They polled the media there, and the media said Ken had won decisively.”