5-Time Champion Johnny Tapia Dead at 45
By Aaron Lloyd
“My name is Johnny Lee Tapia. I was born on Friday the 13th. A Friday in February of 1967. To this day I don’t know if that makes me lucky or unlucky. When I was eight I saw my mother murdered. I never knew my father. He was murdered before I was born. I was raised as a pit bull. Raised to fight to the death. Four times I was declared dead. Four times they wanted to pull life support. And many more times I came close to dying.” – Excerpt from Johnny Tapia’s 2010 autobiography Mi Vida Loca
The tragic tale of one of boxing’s most respected warriors came to an end on Sunday, May 27, 2012, as five-time world champion Johnny Tapia finally succumbed to the addiction that plagued him throughout much of his tumultuous life. At around 7:45 pm authorities were called to Tapia’s home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and his death was confirmed shortly thereafter, the result of an apparent drug overdose, with toxicology and autopsy results still pending.
Growing up under some of the most unimaginable circumstances, Johnny Tapia, in the words of boxing analyst Larry Merchant, was a “5-1 underdog to survive his own childhood.” He was a witness to his mother’s kidnap and murder as an eight-year old, his father abandoned him, and he was routinely beaten by his grandfather, who often forced Johnny to fight for money on the street as a child. As an adult, Johnny battled drug addiction, bi-polar disease, and depression, and while he managed to find some solace and purpose through boxing, his life outside the ring was wrought with so much pain that his only method of coping was through his habitual self destruction.
Several years ago, he reflected on the difficulties that led him to that particular stage of his life, stating, “I have lived and had it all. I have been wealthy and lost it all. I have been famous and infamous. Five times I was a world champion. You tell me. Am I lucky or unlucky?
Johnny Tapia came into this world fighting demons, and he fought them every step of the way. May he be lifted of his burdens once and for all, and may he finally get the opportunity to rest in peace.