Philly Boxing History

MARCH 06, 1990



The incomparable Gypsy Joe Harris, died on this day in 1990 at the age of 44. Born in his beloved Philadelphia on December 1, 1945, Joe Louis Harris was named after the great heavyweight champion by a mother who dreamed of having a son who would grow up to be a fighter. Her dreams were realized as Harris became one of the most popular fistic attractions of the late 1960's. He dazzled spectators and opponents with one of the most unique fighting styles ever to come along. Part boxer and part clown, Gypsy ran up an impressive 24-bout undefeated streak to start his career. Victims of this dancing (and punching) flea included Johnny Knight, Miguel Barreto, Jose Stable, Bobby Cassidy, Dick DiVeronica, Kitten Hayward and welterweight champion, Curtis Cokes, in a non-title contest at Madison Square Garden. Only the great Emile Griffith managed a victory over Harris - in Joe's 25th bout. Still Joe seemed to be a comet streaking to the top of the boxing world. However, he held a secret that would ultimately destroy his dream.

As a child, little Joe Harris was blinded in his right eye when he was hit with a brick by another neighborhood kid. Later as his boxing career flourished, he kept the impairment hidden from state commission doctors by memorizing eye charts and reciting back the letters and numbers of the chart with the confidence of someone with 20/20 vision. Eventually the doctors caught on and his license to fight was taken away. Some believe that everyone (managers, promoters, & commissioners) knew his secret but turned their own blind eye while this cash-cow rung up the box office receipts. Conspiracy theorists claim that Harris' own manager turned him because he feared Gypsy was being wooed by another manager. In any case, he was never again allowed to fight, and the loss of his dream (and livelihood) hit him hard. The lovable and always popular Gypsy Joe spiraled downward into a sad life of hard drugs and deep depression. Without boxing, he was lost. Eventually his health deteriorated and he suffered several heart attacks. Although he kicked his drug habit near the end of his life, the damage was done and his weakened heart finally gave out. Gypsy Joe Harris was a true original and one of the all-time greats of Philadelphia's boxing history. It is certain that there will never be another Gypsy Joe.

  1931 - Dick Welsh W10 Sailor Everham at Portsmouth, VA
  1981 - Jerome Artis W8 Ricardo Camoranesi at E.M. Loew Theatre in Worcester, MA