FORMER Mayor of Limerick Jack Bourke has recalled his run-in with boxing great Joe Frazier, who died from liver cancer this week.
Smokin’ Joe was heavyweight champion in June 1971 when Jack booked his singing group – Joe Frazier and His Knockouts – to play the City Theatre. Three months earlier, Frazier had defended his title by beating Muhammad Ali in the first of their legendary trilogy of fights.
But Frazier failed to draw the punters in Limerick, with only 45 paying £1.50 to see The Knockouts sing. And it was left to Jack Bourke to stand before the small, but angry, crowd that the champ was refusing to perform – and had already left for Tralee in his Rolls Royce.
“To say he was angry is putting it mildly,” said Jack. “He even threatened to give me a dig at one stage”.
Jack himself had boxed as an amateur but wasn’t taking any chances.
“I was a bit foolish in my youth but not that bloody foolish. I remember [boxer and tenor] Jack Doyle coming to the City Theatre as well. When hardly anybody turned up, he blamed me as well. But you find that with performers. They blame everybody and everything else but their own lack of appeal. Joe Frazier was a great boxer but I assume people didn’t want to see him to sing because his vocal chords would have been battered in the ring.”
Both Frazier and Jack Doyle, “The Gorgeous Gael”, had been managed for their Irish singing performances by impresario and strongman Michael “Butty” Sugrue, who Jack Bourke described as “a mad Kerryman”.
“Butty was about five feet tall and six feet wide and I remember he once pulled a bus down O’Connell Street with his teeth. He billed himself as the world’s strongest man.”
Jack Doyle had also refused to take to the stage in Limerick and instead hit Punch’s pub and Geary’s hotel.
“As was his wont, Jack drank them out of the night stock in the hotel. I remember meeting Butty the next day and said ‘Good morning Mr Sugrue’ and mentioned the matter of the bill. He said it had nothing to do with him and he threatened to knock me through the glass doors I was standing in front of.” The threat was not carried out, nor was the bill paid, Jack said.
The small crowd at the City Theatre weren’t the only ones stood up by Joe Frazier in June 1971 and a Limerick Leader report, available at the local studies section in the City Library, described how the champ’s entourage had kept the Mayor JP Liddy, who was planning an official reception, waiting for three hours.