Volume 21, Number 38 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | January 30 - February 5, 2009
Jose Torres, 72, boxing champ and local leader, dies
Jose “Cheguí” Torres, former light heavyweight champion of the world, writer and community activist, died Jan. 19 in Puerto Rico. He was 72.
His wife, Ramonita Ortiz, said the cause of death was a heart attack, the Associated Press reported.
Torres and his family lived for about 30 years in Tribeca’s Independence Plaza North before moving back to Puerto Rico a few years ago. Neighbors remembered Torres as a familiar, friendly presence who often joined their fights to keep the middle income housing complex affordable.
During a fight over rents, Torres said landlords “are behaving just like promoters” at a hearing before the city Dept. of Housing Preservation and Development, according to a January, 1997 Downtown Express article.
“He was very community-oriented,” said Anne Compoccia, an I.P.N. tenant and the former chairperson of Community Board 1. She remembered him being helpful in her political campaigns and through tough times in her life.
“He was always very supportive,” she said. ‘’‘C’mon you got to be a better fighter,’ he would say.”
Compoccia said Torres became very discouraged a few years ago when the new landlord bought out of the Mitchell-Lama housing program, which she said forced many people to move.
Torres, who lived in one of the I.P.N. townhouses, would often talk about the complex’s diversity.
“My children’s best friends were of every color on earth,” Torres said in an interview with his friend, columnist Jack Newfield in 1997. “Everybody smiles and says ‘good morning’ in the elevator. If one family has a crisis, all the neighbors help.”
Councilmember Alan Gerson said he met Torres in 2000, and the former boxer was enormously helpful, particularly in his first campaign in 2001.
“When I would go to Hispanic parts of the district with him, the response was electric,” Gerson said.
“He had a passionate concern about young people,” Gerson added. “He had a great sense of humor. He would joke his brain was affected by boxing, but he was so sharp.”
Torres, who became a professional boxer in 1958, held the light heavyweight title from 1965 –1966. He won a Silver Medal in the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne.
He later wrote biographies on Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson, wrote boxing columns for the New York Post and headed the State Boxing Commission.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by four children.