Boxing loses inspirational Charles
If Nick Charles was your friend, you had to expect the unexpected. And so, in early May, when the telephone rang and Nick was on the other end, it was highly unexpected.
Charles, the charismatic former CNN sports anchor and boxing play-by-play man for Showtime, HBO and Top Rank, was fighting Stage 4 bladder cancer. His death was imminent.
Whether it would be a day, a week or a month, everyone – including Nick – knew it was inevitable. But his impending death, which came peacefully early Saturday in his Santa Fe, N.M., home – a few days before his 65th birthday – didn’t stop him from living.
He worked vigorously to complete the family’s dream home. He scoured the Internet to find the perfect piano for his 5-year-old daughter, Giovanna. He accepted a job calling a fight on HBO even though no one was really certain whether he was strong enough to survive the trip from Santa Fe to Atlantic City, N.J.
When it was Nick on the other end of the phone that morning in May, I should have been shocked but I was not.
“You inspire me,” he said in a creaky voice, one much weaker and scratchier than the booming baritone that, along with his thick, curly hair and dazzling smile, had made him famous.
The call wasn’t long because I was stuck for words.
One of Charles’ mottos was “Embrace life, no matter how dire the circumstances,” and he did that until the end. No matter how sick he got, no matter how much pain he was in, he lived. He enjoyed his family and his friends and the opportunities life brought. Whether it was appreciating the majesty of the vista from the back of his home or sharing a kind word with a friend, Charles got everything there was to get out of life.
Nick loved boxing and took every opportunity to watch it, read about it, talk with someone about it. If you loved boxing too, he was your friend.
After Showtime quit using him to call fights on its ShoBox series, after his hair fell out from the chemotherapy treatments and his eyes sunk, Top Rank’s Bob Arum phoned and offered him a spot to announce his cards.
Charles jumped at the chance. He was so grateful that he couldn’t stop raving about Arum’s kindness. At one fight in Las Vegas – I can’t remember which one it was – I saw Charles. He was not announcing the show but had accepted an invitation from Arum to watch.
As I approached him, I didn’t recognize him. He had zero hair at this point and it had been awhile since I’d seen him. I was walking across the room and saw this thin, elderly man smile warmly at me. I didn’t know who he was, but I smiled in return, nodded my head and walked past.
As I passed him, I heard a familiar voice. I stopped, wheeled around and realized that it was Nick whom I had not recognized.
“You don’t want to talk to your friends?” he said in mock indignation.
We embraced, and as I patted him on the back, he whispered: “Can you believe what Bob Arum is doing for me? Isn’t he a great guy?”
That was Nick. He was always about someone else.
Knowing he was dying, he recorded videos for his young daughter to watch in the years to come – clips in which he’d wish her a happy birthday, talk to her about life and to remind her how much he loved her.
Nick is gone now, far too soon, and his absence will leave a hole in the heart of his wife, Cory, and all of his children – as well as the fortunate ones who were able to count him as a friend.
The world is a little less warm, a little less hospitable place without Nick Charles in it.
He fought until he could fight no more. He gave it his all. And in the end, that’s all that can be asked of anyone.
Congratulations, Nick, on a life well-lived.
You inspired us.