Spokesperson and former professional boxer
Born George Edward Foreman, January 10, 1949, in Marshall, TX; son of J.D. (a railroad worker) and Nancy Ree Foreman; married and divorced four times; married Mary Foreman; children: Michi, Freeda George, Georgetta, Natalie, Leola, George Edward II, George Edward III, George Edward IV, George Edward V, George Edward VI.
Office —George Foreman Youth Center, PO Box 14267, Humble, TX 77347.
Boxer, 1969–1977, 1987–1997; pastor, 1977—; product representative, 1994—.
Olympic gold medal in boxing, 1968; World Heavyweight Championship, 1973, 1994.
Olympic gold medalist and boxing champion George Foreman has held the world heavyweight title twice, and became the oldest man ever to win it after making a comeback to regain the honor in 1994. Although he retired from boxing in 1997, he is still a popular and highly visible figure, and has made millions by selling a home grill, the Lean, Mean, Fat–Reducing Grilling Machine. He is also a preacher and the founder of a youth center in Houston, Texas.
Born in Marshall, Texas, Foreman grew up there and later in Houston's rough Fifth Ward, where his mother moved to look for work. When Foreman was five, J.D. Foreman, the man Foreman believed was his father, left the family, leaving Foreman and his six siblings with their mother. It was a daunting load for a single mother, and Foreman often roamed the streets of Houston, getting into trouble. He was bigger and stronger than most boys his age, and he wandered the streets, living in abandoned houses, picking pockets, mugging drunks, and making trouble for everyone he met. His mother, overwhelmed by his bad behavior, was hospitalized for emotional collapse when he was 14. While in the hospital, she sent $45 home to pay for Foreman's sister's graduation ring, but Foreman stole the money and spent it to buy wine and presents for himself. By the time he was 16, he was tough and street–smart, but he could barely read or write.
One night, however, he had an experience that woke him up to the truth about his life. He told Hans J. Massaquoi in Ebony that after mugging some people, he crawled under a house to hide from the pursuing police and their dogs: "I started remembering from television shows that whenever the criminals were getting pursued, they would go into the water so the dogs couldn't sniff them. So I started digging myself under the mud. And for the first time I realized that I had become a criminal. I had dropped out of school and didn't know what to do with my life."
At this point, he remembered seeing a television commercial for the Job Corps, a program that educated young people and gave them job skills. He signed up the next day, and after an initial period of adjustment, learned bricklaying, forestry, and carpentry; he also learned to read and write. To siphon off the energy he used to spend street fighting, he learned the sport of boxing. Each month, he sent $50 home to his mother.
Only 20 months after his first boxing match, Foreman's talent for the sport led him to win a gold medal at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. After winning, he waved an American flag around the ring, causing a controversy among many African–American civil rights activists, who saw this patriotic move as a way of appeasing the oppressive white–run American society of the time. His move was in sharp contrast to that of other African–American athletes at the Games; instead of raising the American flag, they proclaimed their pride and protest by giving the Black Power salute—a raised, clenched fist—after their Olympic wins. Foreman told Ebony 's Massaquoi, "I was so proud that I had won. I wanted the whole world to know that I was from America."
Hurt by the criticism, Foreman adopted a tough–guy image, habitually wearing a menacing grimace; after he turned professional in 1969, he was known for his mean facial expression and tough demeanor. This persona made him unpopular among the public, as did the fact that he did not serve in the military during the Vietnam War. In fact, Foreman did register for the draft, but drew a high number in the lottery, so he did not have to serve, and chose a civilian career. In contrast, boxer Muhammad Ali, who refused to be drafted, was stripped of his boxing title as a result, but still became a popular hero to the public because he was not considered to be surly, as Foreman was. Foreman's lawyer and friend, Henry Holmes, told People, "He was a guy who never smiled. He was feared and rejected by the public."
On January 22, 1973, after fighting his way through the ranks of boxers, winning his first 37 fights—including 34 knockouts—he won the heavyweight championship from Joe Frazier after only two rounds. He continued to box for the next four years. During those years, his most ignominious fight was with Muhammad Ali, who soundly beat him in 1974. Foreman bolstered his flagging self–confidence with money, toys, and women, buying several houses, a pet lion and tiger, and fancy cars. He retained deep bitterness toward Ali and dreamed of a rematch, but it never happened.
In 1977, Foreman experienced a profound religious conversion that led him to leave the boxing world, as well as to forego millions in potential boxing winnings. After losing a difficult 12–round match against Jimmy Young in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Foreman was bleeding from his forehead, hands, and feet, and exhausted. In the dressing room, he felt as if he had spiritually died and needed to be reborn. "Jesus is coming alive in me!" he shouted, according to Ebony 's Massaquoi, and from that moment, became a born–again Christian. Eventually, he co-founded a small church, the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, in a poor area of Houston, and hit the road as a traveling evangelical preacher.
Foreman cut his hair, as well as his ties with boxing, and told Massaquoi that even the general public failed to recognize him anymore. "So you see, I had disappeared. I had become just a regular guy in the crowd." Along with his hair, Foreman rid himself of all his luxury cars, several houses, his pet tiger and lion, and stopped flying first class. He also gave up exercising, ate whatever he wanted, and gained a great deal of weight.
With his brother, Reid, Foreman founded the George Foreman Youth and Community Development Center in Houston. Intended to keep young people active and away from crime and drugs, the center offered basketball, weight lifting, boxing, and a library. However, the center eventually ran out of funding. Foreman, not wanting to close it down, decided that the only way to save it was for him to make some money. The only way he knew how to make money was through boxing, so he decided to return to the ring. It was a difficult decision, because he was unsure how the members of his church would view a pastor who beat people up for a living.
When he decided to return to boxing in 1987, Foreman was the subject of many scornful press commentaries, as reporters were skeptical of his ability to make a comeback. Some viewed it as a publicity stunt, partly because Foreman, to supplement his income, found work as a pitchman for hamburgers and other fast food, and boasted of his huge appetite. He was no longer the fit young man he had been in his prime, and he looked it. Still, despite his increased girth and weight, he began beating younger and fitter boxers, slowly earning respect from boxers and the sports press. In addition, his persona had changed; instead of a surly young man, he was now a pleasant and funny middle–aged man. In addition, he had a sense of humor about himself, yelling during interviews, "I might be the fattest guy in the world, but I got the hardest punch!" according to Julie Sloane in Fortune.
After 24 wins, including 23 knockouts, he was viewed as a true contender to regain the heavyweight title. In 1991 he fought Evander Holyfield for the title, but lost by a decision. On November 5, 1994, Foreman fought Michael Moorer for the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation heavyweight titles, and won after knocking out Moorer in the tenth round.
As a result of his win, Foreman received endorsement offers from many companies, but the one that has had the greatest publicity is his association with the Lean, Mean, Fat–Reducing Grilling Machine, manufactured by Salton. Foreman began pitching the grill in 1995. In 1997, Foreman retired from boxing for good, with a record of 76–5, with 68 knockouts. Meanwhile, after a slow start, sales of the grill skyrocketed; in 2002 alone, the company made $922 million from the product, and by 2003, it had sold 50 million grills over the years. Advertising Age writer Bob Garfield told Fortune 's Sloane that Foreman was largely responsible for the sales: "He was a highly charged personality, very likable, a noted carnivore who was selling a good and inexpensive product." Sloane observed that Foreman had the unique ability to appeal to both men and women, for different reasons: "Women see him as warm and cuddly, while men see him as a champ."
Foreman has ten children—five girls and five boys. The boys are all named George Edward, after Foreman, with the addition of numerals: George Edward II, George Edward III, George Edward IV, George Edward V, George Edward VI. Foreman told Ebony 's Massaquoi why he named all his sons after himself: "I wanted my boys to have something that nobody could ever take from them, and I figured, give them a name that they could run into whenever they had problems or if they ever got lost.…" He also explained that he was deeply affected by the fact that he did not know who his real father was until 1976, and he wanted to make sure his own sons never had any doubt about their own origins.
In 2003, Foreman was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He told a reporter for Jet, "It's wonderful.… I'm a boxing Hall of Famer, and I love it." In the same year, he published a book, George Foreman's Guide to Life, with coauthor Linda Kulman. In an interview with Jeff Zaleski in Publishers Weekly, Foreman said that the most important piece of advice he wanted to pass on to people was, "Learn to trust in yourself. There's not a better person you're going to meet in this life, and there's not anyone you're going to know any better than you. The best advice will come from within you." He told People, "I wasted a lot of time not being nice. The thing I covet more than anything is to be seen as the nicest guy in the world."
(With Linda Kulman) George Foreman's Guide to Life, Simon & Schuster, 2003.
Ebony, July 1995, p. 86.
Fortune, June 9, 2003, p. 168B.
Jet, June 23, 2003, p. 51.
Men's Health, April 1995, p. 120.
People, April 28, 2003, pp. 115–18.
Publishers Weekly, January 6, 2003, p. 53.
Texas Monthly, February 1995, p. 98.
Time, April 28, 2003, p. G10.
— Kelly Winters