He was the best-known trainer of the era, linked for all days to the greatest boxer the world has ever known. Angelo Dundee, at age 90, died early Wednesday evening of a heart attack in Tampa, Fla.
His family released a statement regarding the man voted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992: "Angelo died surround by family and friends. He was happy to have celebrated Ali's b-day and he still had much to do but led an extraordinary life. He can now join his beloved wife Helen."
Dundee, born Angelo Mirena in Philadelphia, trained 15 world champions, including the inimitable Muhammad Ali, to whom he was unrelentingly loyal to, Sugar Ray Leonard, Jose Napoles, Jimmy Ellis, Carmen Basilio and Willie Pastrano.
He learned the trade, after a stint in the Army, by soaking up knowledge from the sages at Stillman's Gym in NYC, men like big brother Chris Dundee, Chickie Ferrera, Charlie Goldman, Freddie Brown, Whitey Bimstein and Ray Arcel. He hooked up with young Cassius Clay after Clay won gold in Rome in 1960, and impressed the budding star because he didn't pursue him like all the others did. It was very nearly love at first site for those two, and their marriage is one of boxing's most powerful unions.
He attended Ali's 70th birthday celebration in Louisville a few weeks ago and, as always, spoke glowingly of The Greatest. He was ever upbeat, always looking on the brightest of sides, always looking forward to working with this or that up-and-comer. It was once said of Angie, "Ask him about Hitler, he'll find something nice to say."
Dundee didn't resort to hard words or slapping faces to get his guys cookin.' "When you're working with a fighter, you're a surgeon, an engineer and a psychologist," he'd say, and as a psychologist, he was superb. His admonition to Ray Leonard -- "You're blowin' it now, son, you're blowin' it!" -- after Round 12 of his 1981 fight against Thomas Hearns lit a fire under his kid, who stopped Hearns in the 14th.
Yes, fighters knew that when Dundee shifted into a more dramatic mode, it was no joke. He was not prone to cheap dramatics, or showboating at the expense of his fighter.
He was still referring Ali as "The Kid" 10 days ago, bless his soul, and in a phone interview with me, he chuckled when he recalled that Ali was asking about his love life.
Speaking of which, Angelo lost his beloved wife, Helen, in December 2010. She'd been ill with cancer for some time, and finally passed on at age 85. They were married for 58 years.
I was stunned, and quite sad when I got the news of Dundee's death. But I was quickly cheered by the knowledge that Angelo believed with his whole big heart that he would be reunited with Helen when his time here was finished.
I told him on the phone last week that I would make it a resolution to get on the phone with him as often as I could, looking forward, because he was better than Prozac at lifting you up. Any fool could learn from Dundee on how to view life. As far as good souls go, Angelo Dundee was the greatest.