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Neurology Now:
Department: THE Waiting Room

REMEMBERING A TRUE CHAMPION

MATTHEWS, WALLACE

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The world took time in May to remember a gentle champion who, sadly, could no longer remember himself.

Floyd Patterson, boxing's first two-time world heavyweight champion, died of prostate cancer at 71. But for at least the last eight years, he suffered from Alzheimer's disease — the latest in a long line of ring legends to develop dementia.

His cognitive impairment became public during a 1998 deposition when he was unable to remember the names of family members, coworkers or the fighters he'd beaten.

That saddened fans because he was among the sport's most sensitive souls. After knocking out Ingemar Johansson to regain the title in 1960, Patterson delayed his own celebration to help his opponent to his feet.

In the mid-80s, Patterson began showing signs of dementia, often forgetting the names of people he'd known for years. By the mid-90s, however, it was clear his affliction was more than mere forgetfulness. Even when he was appointed chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission in 1995, it was an open secret he was no longer capable of handling the job. After leaving it three years later, he lived quietly in New Paltz, N.Y., occasionally volunteering as a youth counselor at a juvenile correction center.

Floyd Patterson leaves behind a legacy that, to all but himself, was truly unforgettable.

WALLACE MATTHEWS

Figure. GENTLE FIGHT...
Figure. GENTLE FIGHT...
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©2006 American Academy of Neurology

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