On September 1st, Tommy ‘The Duke’ Morrison died at the age of 44. Morrison, a former WBO heavyweight champion, gained fame in the early ’90s for co-starring with Sly Stallone in ‘Rocky V’ and defeating George Foreman for the vacant WBO title in 1993. However, he probably became even more well-known for testing positive for HIV in 1996 and effectively being banned from boxing from that point forward. Later on in his life, he would deny that he had HIV and stated that the test was a ‘false positive.’
In the late’80s and early ’90s, Morrison was seen as one of boxing’s ‘Great White Hopes’, and box-office success seemed to be in his future. While in the midst of winning his first 28 fights, 24 of which came by knockout, Stallone saw him and instantly fell in love. Sly cast him as his protégé in the fifth ‘Rocky’ film. While the movie wasn’t the moneymaker that the previous films of the series were, and was lambasted by critics, it did bring Morrison to prominence and made him a household name.
In October 1991, Morrison got his first world title shot against Ray Mercer. Mercer was way too much for Morrison to handle that night and quickly dispensed of him with a 5th round TKO. To Morrison’s credit, he was able to rebound from that loss and he strung together 8 straight knockout wins before facing Foreman for the vacant WBO crown. He fought a good technical fight against Big George, staying away from his right hand, and came away with a unanimous decision and the title.
After the victory, Morrison thought he was on his way to a big showdown with WBC heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis when he faced little-known Michael Bentt. Bentt was appearing in only his 12th professional bout and his first 12-rounder. What looked to be a tune-up for Morrison in preparation for a big payday with Lewis turned out to be a nightmare. 97 seconds into the fight, Morrison tasted canvas three times and said goodbye to his WBO title and the potential unification fight with Lewis.
Morrison would finally get to face Lewis two years later. However, at that point, Lewis had lost his WBC crown to Oliver McCall. Lewis made short work of Morrison in their encounter with a 6th-round TKO. However, a few months later, Morrison’s life would change forever. During a routine blood exam before a fight in February 1996, it was revealed that Morrison was HIV-positive. In a press conference after the news was broke, Morrison seemed to take ownership of the results, stating that his lifestyle led to this. For the next few months, he started a foundation to raise money for AIDS awareness.
Somewhere along the line, Morrison decided that he did not have HIV, that he would not get AIDS, and that this was all a grand conspiracy against him. Apparently, he had convinced himself through reading on the internet that it was not possible that he could have HIV. Basically, from the late ’90s on, he became an HIV denier. He didn’t take his medication. He lived his life how he wanted to. However, what was worse, he would go on and have unprotected sex with not only his wife at the time, but other women over the years. After getting divorced in 2007 to his wife Dawn, he would get married again a few years later to a woman named Trisha. Due to his denial, he went full speed ahead with a reckless lifestyle, a lifestyle that no doubt left other people infected, and probably facing a much shorter lifespan.
All the way to the end, Morrison denied that he was infected with HIV. Even in the past couple of years, when it was pretty apparent to anyone who saw him that he was deathly sic and had full-blown AIDS, Morrison continued with the denials, claiming different maladies were causing his gaunt appearance and lesions on his skin. He was bedridden for the better part of the past year. However, his wife told reporters that he was actually afflicted with Guillain Barre Syndrome, which is a rare nervous disorder, and that he was not sick with AIDS.
n fact, Trisha is a denier just like her deceased husband. She does not believe HIV exists, instead claiming that it is a fraud perpetrated upon the human race. Much like Morrison, she adheres to all of the conspiracies out there about HIV and AIDS. She proudly proclaimed that they had unprotected sex. In all likelihood, she is HIV-positive at this point, just as Morrison’s ex-wife Dawn probably is. And the longer she denies it, the greater chance she will get gravely sick before too long.
Tommy ‘The Duke’ Morrison was a good heavyweight boxer that had a very promising career once. Even though his career ended well before it should have, he enjoyed a decent amount of success and fame. When his own reckless behavior caught up with him, he had the chance to make a positive difference in others’ lives. While he seemed to be heading that way after the HIV announcement, he instead allowed denial and ignorance to overtake him in the long run. And because of that, he is dead at the age of 44. Considering the advances made in HIV treatment, he should have been able to live a whole lot longer. In the end, perhaps the best his family and friends can hope for is that his death will not be completely in vain. Maybe, just maybe, it will be seen as an example of what can happen when you allow yourself to deny the truth for too long.